Following the leads of previous films “High Hopes” and “Life is Sweet,” director Mike Leigh once again explores the lives of the middle and working class of London through “Happy-Go-Lucky,” a highly enjoyable and infectious contemporary comedy that comes with its fair share of reality.
Poppy (Sally Hawkins), an extraordinarily cheerful primary school teacher from North London who truly has a zest for life, rides onto the screen on her bicycle, red earrings and boots, whizzing past the traffic of England’s capital and into the beginning of the sneak peek of her life that we’re about to see.
Generally content, happy and at times oblivious, Poppy lives with her best friend and flat mate, Zoe (Alexis Zegerman). Single and 30, she prefers to focus on the small details of life, including spending time with friends, hanging out with her younger sister Suzy (Kate O’Flynn) and relieving stress my jumping on a trampoline once a week.
When her bicycle is stolen, she laments that she didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye to it, but decides in a bold move to look at the bright side of things and seizes the opportunity to finally take driving lessons. Little does she know, that her driving instructor Scott (Eddie Marsan), is bit on the, shall we say, eccentric side. With his belief in conspiracy theories, anxiety-prone nature and Hitler-esque teaching style, Scott is the polar opposite of Poppy. With his “Good driving is no accident” car emblem, he not only criticizes her sense of style, scolding her about the fact that her high heeled boots are inappropriate driving shoes, but he also takes jabs at her optimistic character, casting it off “celebrating chaos.” Even with Scott’s personality bordering on psychotic, Poppy still manages to do what most people can’t seem to: stay happy.
It might be easy to categorize Poppy as naive or even slightly annoying because of her incessant happiness, however recognizing the hardships of life and having the ability to stay afloat despite them is what enables her to somehow have a better quality of life than the rest of us.
From spending a moment with a homeless man, to taking flamenco lessons from a vivacious teacher (Karina Fernandez) and dealing with a younger, married and pregnant sister who challengers her lifestyle, to trying to help a bully overcome his anger issues in her classroom, Poppy’s life is full of ups and downs, but she manages to navigate them with finesse.
With a stunning and Oscar-worthy performance by Sally Hawkins, who brings life to the character of Poppy, “Happy-Go-Lucky” will have you contemplating the plot, scenes and dialogue long after you have left the cinema.
Fernandez’ portrayal of a Spanish dancing instructor who teaches Poppy to let loose is perhaps one of the most comedic parts of the film, most particularly her introduction during which she comments that her hometown of Seville, Spain is famous for oranges that “You English people turned into disgusting Marmalade !” (Watch the clip below)
Through Poppy’s giggles,quick comebacks and interactions with friends and family, “Happy-Go-Lucky” is a short glimpse into the lives of ordinary people. Her desire to help others, like the bully in her class who manifests his aggression on others to cope with the abuse he receives at home, or trying to understand the babblings of a homeless man and continuing to take lessons from the erratic Scott when most of us would have canceled after the first encounter, encapsulates her in a mild “Amelie syndrome” and at times might make her seem make believe. If we answer the question the film poses “Just how hard is it to be happy” through the eyes of Poppy, the answer is, not that hard.
Watching Poppy and Zoe’s exchanges in their flat and the high speed chatter in which they communicate with might be enough to either make you dizzy, or feel slightly like a voyeur, or perhaps both. Leigh’s intimate portrayal of Poppy and her social circle, will leave you contemplating how happy you might be in your own life. And although the saying goes that you can’t make everyone happy, as Zoe tells Poppy, there’s no harming in trying, she retorts back. There’s no harm indeed.
Happy-Go-Lucky is rated R and opens in limited release in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco today.
Photo by Simon Mein/Miramax Films