Movies »Happy-Go-Lucky

happy go luckydirected by Mike Leigh (2008)

Admiration isn’t a strong enough word to describe how I feel about Mike Leigh and his magical films of the mundane. Life is Sweet, Grown Ups, Naked, Topsy Turvy, and the Short and Curlies all make my list of all-time favorite movies; and while I freely admit that I tend to shy away from his more depressing projects (I had to stop All or Nothing about 20 minutes in and have yet to see Vera Drake), his grace, empathy and subtle comedic touch is truly unrivaled. So I was understandably thrilled when I first heard about his latest film, Happy-Go-Lucky, the story of an unusually optimistic young woman who meets a racist driving instructor.

Leigh essentially redefines the chick flick by totally rethinking all the boring Hollywood clich?s. Instead of a Sandy Bullock clone of a Sandy Bullock character who’s one dimensionally “quirky”, quietly lonely beneath her semi-eccentric (let’s just call it brassy) shell, saddled with a wise-cracking best friend and whose life can only become actualized by a man, Sally Hawkins plays Poppy as a lovable goofball who is happy just living her life – teaching kids, taking classes, partying with her best friends – and she doesn’t need a boyfriend to complete her. Poppy’s contentment is especially baffling and hard to deal with for the people she encounters who are not satisfied with their own lives; one character can’t believe that true happiness can be attained without a husband and a mortgage, another is actually offended by her ready acceptance of the world as a chaotic, messy place.

Hawkins has won numerous awards and considerable accolades for her brilliant performance, which is far more complex than it may initially sound – sure, Poppy is tirelessly optimistic, but she’s not in any way push-able around or na?ve. Equally impressive is Eddie Marsen‘s amazing turn as Scott, the driving instructor whose small, paranoid, misogynistic and racist world Poppy (unintentionally) rocks to its core.

While it’s fair to warn that, compared to the hysteric dramatics of most contemporary rom coms, not a whole lot happens in this film (Poppy hurts her back and visits a chiropractor, she browses a book store, she grabs a beer with a friend, etc?, it’s a testament to everyone involved that by the time this engaging, quiet movie is through, it has become thoroughly moving and you end up empathizing with the most vile of people. By its conclusion, the film has actually forced the audience to see the world through Poppy’s compassionate eyes, if only for a moment, which makes for a really quite stunning movie going experience.

What can I say, I just loved this movie, absolutely loved it! Enraha!

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Posted on March 23, 2009

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