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Mike Leigh has made a career out of unusual films--who else would make a biopic about Gilbert & Sullivan?--but Happy-Go-Lucky may be his most unusual yet: A movie about a woman who is almost compulsively cheerful. Poppy (Sally Hawkins, star of the 2007 miniseries of Persuasion) may at first seem like the most annoying human being alive. She can't help but try to get a smile from someone who's ignoring her. When her bicycle gets stolen, she shrugs it off and decides to learn how to drive, which leads her to form a strange sparring relationship with her frustrated driving instructor, Scott (Eddie Marsan). Meanwhile, she takes flamenco lessons, visits with her squabbling family, tries to help a troubled boy at the school where she teaches, and encounters a homeless man--but this bland catalogue of events doesn't capture how Poppy's relentless optimism acts as a rorschach test to the people around her, reflecting back their worst or best feelings about themselves. Poppy, whose natural impulse is to empathize, discovers she needs to draw boundaries between herself and a world that wants to interpret her cheerfulness in unintended ways. The result is a unique movie experience, one that defies conventional notions of what's dramatic yet grows more absorbing with every moment. Just as it's hard to imagine anyone liking Poppy at the start of Happy-Go-Lucky, it's hard to imagine that anyone doesn't care about her by the movie's end. --Bret Fetzer
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At the beginning it seems that she will overrun a challenge like a tank running over a building in a WW II flick. Smiles. Banter. Humor. Irrepressible. Even when alone.
The challenges grow. A problem student. A vagrant in a deserted part of town. A doctor visit. A dance instructor with issues.
And then the new champion for Driving Instructor From Satan, played by Eddie Marsan. These scenes are classics. As in many movies confrontation is important to good comedy or drama. The theater I saw this in was laughing its collective heads off. The driving lessons make me smile even as I type this.
How Poppy reacts to each challenge - and how others react to Poppy - is the core of this movie. The plot is mostly a string of episodes. Mike Leigh does an outstanding job directing, finding a second level to each situation. Funny and happy. But also thoughtful and a little gritty.
Sally Hawkins should be up for an Oscar in 2009, but that is a whole other discussion.
The film doesn't follow any Hollywood formula, so here is fair advance warning. You may not like "Happy-Go-Lucky" if:
1. You dislike "British Humor".
2. You have difficulty following non-American English.
3. You dislike films without a definite or obvious "plot".
There is a decidedly British genre that I would loosely describe as "get a handful of interesting characters together and follow them a few days". (I recently watched "The Station Agent" and although the characters and setting were different, it shares this genre.)
Poppy isn't just cheerful. She finds almost any situation a suitable one for a joke and a laugh. In the opening she rides her bicycle to a bookstore where she tries unsuccessfully to get the attention of the bearded young man who works there. She goes outside to discover her bicycle has been stolen. She is disappointed and says "I didn't even get to say good-bye!"
The stolen bike leads Poppy to decide to take driving lessons. She hires the increasingly serious and severely humorless Scott, played by Eddie Marsan. Some of the funniest scenes in the film and certainly the most serious one take place during Poppy's driving lessons.
Poppy has shared a flat with Zoe for ten years, and she has two younger sisters who don't share her irrepressible cheery disposition.
I could give you the entire "plot" and although I wouldn't be giving you many "spoilers", I also wouldn't be giving you much encouragement to watch the movie.
The Mrs. and I laughed out loud several times. Go back to my short list of disqualifiers. If you're NOT disqualified, you might like it.
The main character if FULL OF JOY for living. What is the point of life if there is NO JOY??? Honestly, I keep reading these negative reviews and they're so superficial. Forgive me, but that's how I feel. Every scene and every character has a reason for being the way it is. Trust me on this one. Just open your minds. Please. And remember this...it's a M O V I E. Seriously. Some people need to lighten up and drop the BS. Mike Leigh wrote and directed one of his best films here, and all some people can say is, "The main character is so annoying". Wow. How sad. Once you have THAT in your head, the rest of the movie will not make any sense. Word.
The protagonist is Poppy (Sally Hawkins), a frenetically happy, 30-year old, primary school teacher living in London's northern reaches with her roommate Zoe (Alexis Zegerman). Poppy's good humor is so inexorable that, while it serves her well with her young charges, it often abrades the patience of adults. Only Zoe is imperturbable.
As with other films of the genre (Local Hero, The Full Monty, Calendar Girls, Waking Ned Devine), the plot revolves not so much around events as the personalities and eccentricities of the players.
The single best overall performance is perhaps that by Eddie Marsan as the scarily intense Scott, Poppy's driving instructor, whose deep-seated, smoldering anger at the world reflects a tightly wound mental state 180 degrees opposite that of his student. Confined together in the small space of Scott's car, an explosion seems always but a hair-trigger's pull away.
Definitely, the single best scene, the one that had the audience in stitches, is played by Karina Fernandez as a Flamenco teacher, when she attempts to describe to and inculcate in her class of adult students the passion necessary for the dance. Talk about meltdown!
The conflict, if it can be called such, of the story comes as Poppy's happy-go-luckiness scrapes up against the unhappy lives and internal turmoil of others: the mentally unstable derelict she encounters under a bridge in a bleak industrial section of the city, her pregnant and subliminally unhappy younger sister, a bullying and disturbed boy in her class, and, above all, Scott. As the last scene fades into the film credits, the viewer is left wondering if Poppy's felicitous worldview will survive life. One suspects it will.