Alfie ★★★★★

I originally downloaded this as part of "Kitchen Sink Dramas" week of the 2017 Film School Dropouts challenge, but didn't get around to watching it until last month. Only the second starring role of Michael Caine, and the film that first made him a star, this seems at first like it's going to be a light comedy, as the titular Cockney character talks directly at us through the camera about his sexual exploits in Swinging '60s London, turning on the breezy charm that has made it so easy for him to bed half the women in Great Britain (and half of the visiting tourists for that matter). But the movie plays a switcheroo on us, as we come to realize that Alfie is actually a pretty despicable character that we start hating more and more, and the script itself broadens into a drama as our anti-villain deals with a cancer scare, an illegal abortion, and a "sugar mommy" who eventually turns the tables on him in an ugly, humiliating way.

The whole reason this period of British cinema is known as "Kitchen Sink" is because it was a shift back into politically charged social-realist storytelling, dealing with real-feeling people in real-feeling situations (as if you were literally watching a working-class family argue around the kitchen sink), which up to then hadn't been a popular form of storytelling since way back with the Rooseveltian writers of the Great Depression; and despite being super-stylish in its costumes and locations and a visually gorgeous treat to watch, Alfie fits squarely into the Kitchen Sink tradition, a sneakily astute and complex examination of working-class ethics within a time of plenty for everyone else, as our put-upon hero more and more reveals that his caddish behavior comes from a background of deep mistrust in his fellow humans, and a kind of desperate yearning for life beyond the grubby poor neighborhoods where he grew up, even if that means in the fashion-obsessed early '60s that you need to "fake it until you make it." A surprisingly powerful drama disguised as a breezy romantic comedy, and strongly recommended for those who are in the mood for such a film.

Jason Pettus liked these reviews