Directed by Mike Leigh
Written by Mike Leigh
Sally Hawkins as Poppy
Alexis Zegerman as Zoe
Eddie Marsan as Scott
Adrea Riseborough as Dawn
Samuel Roukin as Tim
Sinead Matthews as Alice
Kate O'Flynn as Suzy
Rated R for language.
The first time we meet Poppy she is riding her bike down the streets, dressed in a lavish little outfit. She chains her bike to a wall, walks into a bookstore where she annoys the worker by complimenting him and talking about what a great day it is. When she leaves the store (without buying anything) she returns to the wall where her bike was to find that it is missing. She gives a smile and says "oh no." And as she begins to continue her journey on foot she proclaims "I didn't even get a chance to say goodbye!" I think it was when Poppy gave that first smile was when I fell in love with this character, an optimistic grade school teacher who goes through life with a smile on her face and a song in her heart. While running down the streets or getting ready for work she sings to herself, "I'm so excited."
"Happy-Go-Lucky" is the new film from Mike Leigh, and a bit of a departure from his normal rather somber look at family. But its still undeniably a product of him. It does touch upon his common themes of dysfunction around families, only this time its done in a more upbeat light. It's the anti-pessimistic film on his resume, as Mike Leigh states during the after film interview with him. Throughout this film we see Poppy go through her life-we see her at work teaching her students about the migration patterns of birds, we see her deal with a bully in her class, we see her have a love affair with a social worker, and we see her with her friends and sisters, one of which is pregnant and is going through her life in an orderly fashion, the opposite of Poppy. And, the meat of the movie, we see Poppy begin to take driving lessons with Scott, played by the wonderful Eddie Marsan. Scott is an angry young man, talking about how awful people are and how the world is going downhill. "The Washington Monument stands 555 feet up in the sky," he proclaims, "and 111 feet underground. 555 plus 111, is 666!"
Poppy is played by Sally Hawkins, who I recall seeing earlier in the year in "Cassandra's Dream," and was impressive in former Mike Leigh films "All or Nothing" and "Vera Drake." Mike Leigh designed this film as a vehicle for her, and with any luck it will work not only in the United Kingdom, but in the United States as well. She's one of my selections for Best Actress of the year so far, giving so much energy and cheerfulness in Poppy, that the viewer can't help but smile whenever she is on the screen. It's infectious! It also helps us ignore the fact that there isn't much of a plot. In typical Mike Leigh fashion the film is a series of vignettes. It's actually quite interesting how Leigh does his films. He goes into it without a script, and instead confers with his actors about their characters. Each character is told only what they would know in life, making rehearsals a constant surprise for the actors. They create histories for them so that in scenes with family there is a familiarity already installed.
But I do have to discuss perhaps the most effective parts in the film. It's four or five scenes, placed throughout. Poppy's driving lessons. If Sally Hawkins gives a great performance, than Eddie Marsan holds up strongly with her. Their scenes together are brimming with chemistry, as Poppy and Scott are polar opposites of each other. There are moments of extreme hilarity-including Scott's drilling of helpful driving hints to Poppy-and yet moments of strong power. An argument scene between the two of them during their final scene together is filled with so much pain and sadness, and Marsan really outdoes himself. It's probably one of the best performances that he's ever done. It's the scenes like that that make "Happy-Go-Lucky" more than a deliriously happy comedy. It has dimensions within its humor and its characters are as real as life. Poppy makes serious situations happy, instead of being stuck in a series of happy situations. It's a film that proves that life can be happy-its hard, but there is a way to twist that around and make it more amusing.
I really loved this film and I loved the performances within it. Mike Leigh is really a wonderfully talented film maker, and where I was apprenhensive in approaching this film worried about that he would do within the genre, I was pleasantly surprised with how perfect it was. Much like his other films.