HAPPY-GO-LUCKY is one of those quirky British films that won't be remembered as one of the best you've ever seen, but is worth a look and four stars because, as I said to my wife after our advance screening, it "has its 5-star moments".
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.