Thursday, May 30, 2024

Movie Review: ‘Chuck Chuck Baby’ is Comfortable in Its Skin

Director: Janis Pugh
Writer: Janis Pugh
Stars: Louise Brealey, Annabel Scholey, Emily Aston

Synopsis: Helen lives with her ex-husband, his 20-year-old girlfriend, their new baby – and his dying mother Gwen. Her life is a grind, and like all the other women she toils with at the local chicken factory, is spent in service of the clock. She lives only for laughing with her friends at work, caring for Gwen, and music. When Joanne, the girl she secretly loved at school, comes back to town, Helen’s world is turned upside down.

Chuck Chuck Baby explores the lives of its characters in the present moment and one in particular who is incapable of it. The film’s main protagonist, Helen, is in a challenging situation. She’s divorced but still living with the man raising another woman’s infant child, which is magnified because she cannot have any of her own. Living in North Wales, she cares for Gwen, a mother figure who lives with her. Even her ex-husband’s girlfriend resides there, and none of them work. Everywhere she turns, Helen is reminded that she’s living a life she never wanted. 

However, that’s all about to change with the return of her high school crush, Joanne (Annabel Scholey), who hardly acknowledges her existence as if she’s going out of her way to ignore Helen. Yet, her return reawakens something inside her. This is a noticeable change because, up to this point, her factory friends have had to drag her along in life practically without her consent. She’s the sad sack of her clan, a group of women working the overnight shift at a local chicken processing plant who break out into song at the sight of some chicken feathers or even a grocery cart.

Despite the joy her friends try desperately to infuse into her everyday comings and goings, life has beaten Helen down, causing her to lose some of her thirst and the joy it can bring. Through self-healing methods involving alcohol, laughter, and music, these women find solace. That doesn’t mean life will immediately turn around for Helen, a woman with fiery red hair who is anything but a spitfire; she’s stuck in an eternal melancholy state. 

Chuck Chuck Baby, which refers to the company where the women work. Headlining the cast is Louise Breasle, who portrays Helen, delivering a stoic yet brave performance that rediscovers some of the joy life can offer. The screenplay, and direction come from Janis Pugh, who previously worked on the The Befuddled Box of Betty Buttifint. That film deals with the fragile nature of living in the past with fractured memories and exploring the theme of healing in Chuck Chuck Baby. This underlying theme runs throughout the film beneath all the whimsical musical numbers.

While the women in the film frequently break out into song, it serves as a symbolic shield to cope with the challenges in their lives. They need some form of creative (or perhaps even self-medicating) outlet to stay in the present moment so they don’t dwell on what lies ahead or what they may have left behind. Pugh’s film is as far outside the box as you can get from your traditional musical, evoking something much more grounded, joyful, and sad.

If anything, this is a modernized British working-class comedy with LGBTQ+ themes, and comparable, in my opinion, to The Full Monty, obviously, minus the work up to the big reveal, pun intended, in which the musical numbers replace their practice sessions. These dames, particularly Beverly Rudd’s Paula, ground the film’s whimsical nature into something grounded and relatable. 

There is something oddly refreshing about the Chuck Chuck Baby experience, besides characters being unkempt and virtually all being free of cynicism. For one, many films try to capture that person of a certain age and reignite their zest for life and love, with mixed results because it’s overflowing with melodrama that targets young adult and teen dramas. Somehow, Pugh captures that youthful exuberance in a middle-aged romance that leaves cynicism on the chicken processing plant floor.

That’s what makes Chuck Chuck Baby so effective, in how Pugh has her film remarkably comfortable in its skin. The story is not necessarily about finding love or purpose, but looking at your lot in life not too far in the future, or even wallowing about situations from past years but finding something in the present moment that makes life worth living. 

For example, when someone professes their love for you while white chicken feathers fall around you like freshly fallen snow, and that one person comes back and declares something passionate. 

There’s joy there, no matter how much chicken crap rests at your feet.

Grade: B-

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