Sunday, November 2, 2008

Happy-Go-Lucky or How it must be hard being happy all the time, no?

Written and Directed by: Mike Leigh
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, Alexis Zegerman & Samuel Roukin.

Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky is an exercise in peppiness: how much can you take? Poppy - played buoyantly by Hawkins - is one of those 'happy people' who go about life smiling to themselves, starting well-intentioned (albeit awkward) conversations with strangers and who not only think the glass is half full but think the fact that you even have a glass is enough to rejoice.

Annoying? Probably. But instead of putting us in the position to judge and be annoyed by Poppy just 'cause, Leigh crafts a film that puts Poppy's 'happy-go-lucky' attitude to the test giving us several characters from which to anchor your view of her: are you a Zoe (Poppy's flatmate) who can play along but also realizes how she really shouldn't try and be as nice as she is? Or are you a Tim (Poppy's love interest) who finds the quirkiness a breath of fresh air in midst of the dark places he must surely visit as a social worker? Or are you a Helen (Poppy's married and pregnant sister) who finds Poppy's outlook on life irresponsible and naive? 

But the most interesting dynamic Leigh creates is that between Poppy and her driving instructor Scott. A cantankerous man Scott is faced with the abrasively sunny Poppy. From the start it feels like a recipe for disaster but as the film bounces along from Poppy's art classes (she's a primary school teacher - to Scott's horror), to her Flamenco dances (where Katrina Fernandez steals her scenes as the heartbroken flamenco teacher who uses the 'gypsy' dance to find strength to stop herself from crying and wanting to cut her ex-boyfriend's balls for running off with some Swiss girl!), to her bubbly interactions with everyone from a hobo to a bookstore clerk, we find the Scott-Poppy scenes develop into an intriguing character study where Poppy's spritely demeanor clashes with Scott's anger in a scene that brings together the ultimate question of the film: is there room in this cut-throat world (whether it'd be the bully-prone schoolroom or the indifferent streets of London) for Poppy's 'emotional fascism' (as by HE's Jeffrey Wells' words)? Seeing Scott and Poppy break down is an incredible moment where Hawkins' performance stands out and where we see that there's no naivete in Poppy's worldview, but a hopeful nature that - grating or not - is admirable. A-


Jose said...

Brilliant movie.
You know what gets me the most though, the fact that somehow we believe Poppy to be a fairy tale character or something, a la Amy Adams in "Enchanted", you even affirm it in your review by saying that Leigh tests which of the supporting characters we are, taking for granted that neither of us are like Poppy. As bubbly and happy as the film is, I still see a slightly dark undertone to it that makes it completely bittersweet and a work of art.

Dale said...

Oh my god. Thanks a heap for linking to that "Emotional facism," review, that was really funny. I especially love how they're saying people like Poppy should be locked up. Who's the emotional facist again?