Overview/ Review (with Spoilers)
Often times when films target the poor, it is about them pulling up their bootstraps and eventually being fine at the end. That or doing something illegal to get by. However, with I, Daniel Blake you are reminded that being poor or needing assistance isn’t something which should maintain the negative stigma that someone doesn’t want to work or working within and pay taxes toward the system. Things can often be more complicated than that.
Daniel (Dave Johns) | Katie (Hayley Squired) | Ann (Kate Rutter)
Characters & Storyline
We live in a world where blue-collar jobs, the jobs for people who like working with their hands and not sitting 5+ hours at a desk somewhere, are being lost to automation. Making it when people like Daniel Blake, who has spent 30 years in construction find themselves unable to work in their field of choice due to medical conditions, who can they turn to? Well, Daniel tries to turn to the state to help, make use of all the taxes he has paid, but with him healthy enough for the service industry but not medically cleared to do what he is good at, he gets the runaround.
He isn’t alone in his desperation, though. Katie is a young mum of two, recently moved to Daniel’s area, and while she hasn’t contributed as Daniel does to the safety net, she is in need. Together, these two find each other during one of the most financial stressing moments of their lives and try to provide support. Though one can’t live off the kindness of others forever.
Two Sides of One Story
Public service workers facing the fact rules and regulations keep them from truly doing their job and the people who have funded the system all their lives, or in the most need, can’t get the help they want all because of one person. While the scales are tipped toward Katie and Daniel’s point of view, to sometimes a heartbreaking extent, it was nice that there was the character Ann who tried to help, who tried to provide some guidance to deal with the system, rather than it seem all government workers were nasty and unappealing for now good reason.
It Has Heart
Being someone who has had to deal with unemployment, had periods of time where my parent had to use government services, both while employed and while not, it is easy to connect to this movie. For while I’m an American, and so there maybe a difference in the way the system works over here compared to where Daniel is in England, you recognize all the usual troubles. The problem of feeling helpless and even though you are trying to find work and make a living for yourself, it seems you get a no at every turn. Then there is the need of depending on either someone, be it friends or family, a local food bank, or the government. There is a certain amount of pride and ego you have to put aside in order to do this, and we see it within Daniel and Katie, though especially Katie. For how do you prepare a young person for hard times, much less a mother who is responsible for two kids? There is always the argument of going after the dad, why didn’t you do this or that, but with the kids here and alive, what does that do? What does speaking in a hypothetical sense help? The kids need shoes, you are sacrificing your own well-being, hiding your own shame and pain, just so that they won’t pick up that their lives are not the norm. And to watch Katie struggle, even with Daniel trying to provide some help, will get you teary eyed. Especially as her kids start to grow attached to Daniel who is becoming like a surrogate grandpa.
If Your Ears Aren’t Used to Non-BBC English Accents, It’ll Be Hard to Connect At Times
The accent most people are used to is, according to my English Literature teacher, the BBC Accent. The accent which is that usual, debonair, sophisticated British accent. Not the one which you may hear of those who had working class upbringing and aren’t posh. With that, even with me watching the occasional British movie or show, it took some time to get used to the way Daniel and Katie spoke and it made it where I desperately wished I had subtitles. For while eventually, you will adapt, the time it takes to do so leads you to only recognize a few words here and there and really rely on body language to pick up what is going on.
Overall: Mixed (Home Viewing)
To be as concise as possible, the main issue for me isn’t just the whole accent situation, but the fact it seems like the film could have gone farther. For while you recognize the desperation, which includes Katie not eating so her kids can and considering being an escort, it’s like the emotional impact are soft jabs to the stomach. The film doesn’t, even as we see Katie hit a personal rock bottom, really go for the gut and try to knock you out. Yet it is hard to say what is the problem. The actors performed well, the script seemed to not want to drown you in trumped up drama, yet there still felt like there was something missing. I don’t know if it was because the government workers seemed two-dimensional or what, but the film has this ghostly presence of what is missing but it refuses to identify itself.