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Genre: , ,

Cast: Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, Alexis Zegerman

Director: Mike Leigh

Rated: R

Release Date: April 18th, 2008
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Overall Grade: B


Review By: Staff


Movie Grade: B DVD Features: N/A Overall Grade: B

The hills are alive with the sound of Sally Hawkins's Poppy. You might not think much of it at first, but Poppy "” at least initially- is like a conduit for all the empty optimism that populates carefree people around the world. And if that sounds frustrating or despondent, wait till you wade through two hours of a film that reads more like a collection of scenes than an established story. Still, Happy-Go-Lucky is an achievement; it recognizes character relations objectively, and gives competing world-views the chance to relate to one another.

Happy-Go-Lucky, directed by Mike Leigh (Vera Drake, Topsy-Turvy, Secrets & Lies) concerns Poppy, a woman whom the terms "effervescent" and "quirky" most readily apply. Leigh rids of the usual color palette that inhabits his other work; namely, the darker tones that highlight emotional insecurity. Here, London is portrayed as a colorful, swinging place, always sunny. Polly layers her clothes; she's like an Anglo Carmen Miranda. She rides her bike in the beginning with a smile that makes the world smile back, or maybe wish she'd run into a car. Leigh does a great job at making the audience decide for themselves whether Poppy is irritating or charming, and it's possible that Poppy thinks that she is neither; she is simply living her life. Even when she leaves a bookshop and notices that her bicycle has been stolen, it's the way of the world, and she doesn't hesitate one second to consider the why it happened, she just carries on, business as usual.

Poppy is a primary (grade) schoolteacher that alternately enjoys her kids and chronicling their innocence and inherent curiosity to her friends. She doesn't seem to care about all that much, except talking and being with her flat-mate, though she does show compassion towards her students, particularly one of the more violent kids in her class.

Much of Happy-Go-Lucky is dedicated to the way Poppy interacts with other teachers, particularly her snappish driving instructor Scott (Eddie Marson), as well as her passionate but enflamed Flamenco instructor. It is this contrast that gives the film some semblance of structure. After all, not only are some people as excited about the prospect of life as Poppy, but also their possible cynicism gives the film some necessary emotional and dramatic weight.

Scott is the apocalypse to Poppy's rebirth"¦He rails against the state of the world, against perceived American imperialism, against crime. "Rome is burning" he says, "There is fear and ignorance" everywhere. It's a judgment call, but at least Leigh doesn't make the mistake of informing the audience that Scott is a social pariah and Poppy is a saint. It's really up to the audience to determine whether or not the characters are worth caring for. For the most part, subjective interpretations of happiness create divisive opinions. Maybe that's

what Happy-Go-Lucky is about. Because of the lack of dramatic tension, and because nothing really happens through the film, it's collection of scenes are an indicator that the human condition is highlighted by the lack of consistency in relation to emotional and mental stimulation, and how these concepts react when people are at odds with a modern world. It's not weighty stuff, really, but Leigh does play on the viewer's expectations.

At about the halfway point in Happy-Go-Lucky, Poppy starts to relate to the human condition with some verve and compassion. And that's a good thing, because her incessant dialogue and conscious attempts at forced conversation are off-putting and relatable only to the most dedicated ideologues, her friends and teachers included. Again, this is not to make a judgment or act in support of cynicism, but how many people, even the most carefree, people loving, Julie Andrews-cum Maria admirers are going to relate to Poppy's every move? One major saving grace of this film is that Leigh seems to understand this, and with Poppy's shift to at least approaching the more arcane or mysterious qualities of life, we can at least appreciate her qualities; they are still somewhat transparent, but they at least seem like they are coming from a place that can appreciate the more disparate characters that inhabit her life.

By the end of the film, Leigh suggests that our worldview, and maybe the way we look at people, is contingent upon the making it through the day in one piece. He never criticizes other peoples' motives or why they do what they do. Poppy's relationship with Scott "” albeit one that pertains to driving lessons "” offers polarities and conflict. His final driving lesson with Poppy is masterful; something terrible will or could happen, but what's left is that Scott is entitled to his world-view and Poppy hers. It's one of the few moments in the film where we feel as though maybe people like Poppy can be somewhat lonely, but also that she deserves her place in life, and this makes her willingness to be optimistic seem all the more human.

For all its limitations or lack of real conflict Happy-Go-Lucky presents character extremes with an understanding that some people might never get along, and that is perfectly acceptable in the presence of a world where dualities are so common.

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