Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Archive: 'Happy-Go-Lucky'

Movie Review
Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)

Sally Hawkins' role in "Happy-Go-Lucky" is deceptively simple. She plays Poppy, an elementary school teacher who almost never stops smiling. She is happy, bouncy, and relentlessly cheerful. She doesn't even mind when her bike gets stolen, but rather, is bothered that she didn't at least get to say goodbye first. I'm pretty certain an Oscar nomination is in order for Hawkins in this star-making performance because playing a woman with such effervescent joy can't be an easy task. She makes it seem like happiness just simply oozes naturally from Poppy's pores. I can't help but wonder if a person like this in real-life would become irritating. I think to some, sure. As for others, I think there are those who would find a dear friend in Poppy as somebody who can always bring the sunshine.

Written and directed by Mike Leigh ("Topsy-Turvy," "Secrets & Lies"), there are some notable improvisation techniques used with the ensemble throughout the movie. This gives the pacing a somewhat meandering and leisurely feel, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. We simply follow Poppy through the course of her days as she interacts with all sorts of different people. She lives with her best friend (Alexis Zegerman) in a cheery, carefree flat. She takes flamenco lessons with a co-worker of hers from a fiery instructor. She visits her other sister who's pregnant and either overly hormonal or cynical. She has a troubled student in one of her classes and becomes interested in the social worker who comes to help the child. And in a most strangely moving scene, Poppy even walks out of her way one night to talk with a homeless man. She comes across him nonsensically chanting and talking to himself, and yet she still sits down to try to draw understanding from him.

The movie is funny, yes, with many humorous scenes, but there's also an underlying oddness or even, dare I say, sadness to many of the situations. Take, for example, when Poppy begins taking driving lessons from a man named Scott (Eddie Marsan). Scott is a very angry man who lets out his distaste with the world through road rage and yelling at his students. He names the rear-view mirror and the side mirrors after the fallen angels. He constantly scolds Poppy, and yet she leaves his vehicle every Saturday telling him she'll see him the same time next week. And Scott never gives up on Poppy, either, even though he becomes furiously irritated by her and especially her boots. Their quirky relationship elevates to a surprisingly devastating climax where we are revealed the inner selves of both Poppy and Scott. We finally understand the motivation behind Poppy's cheerfulness.

As much as "Happy-Go-Lucky" is a light, airy, and frivolous comedy, it's also something deeper. Leigh has created a meditation on what it truly means to be happy and how pessimism sometimes runs people's way of life. The question becomes whether we ever really find happiness or if it's something we will upon ourselves. Poppy isn't necessarily trying to cheer others up, but rather is extending an invitation to others to find the joy in everyday moments. It's an enjoyable character study with a purpose that emerges only late in the game, and it's the type of unassuming uplifting movie that you could say these times need.

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