United Kingdom, 2008
Directed By: Mike Leigh
Written By: Mike Leigh
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, Alexis Zegerman, Samuel Roukin
Running Time: 118 minutes
Rated R for language
2.5 out of 5 stars
Director Mike Leigh (Vera Drake, Topsy-Turvy) introduces us to the cotton candy world of Poppy, a British grade school teacher with zest for life rivaled only by Mary Poppins on acid, in his latest outing, Happy-Go-Lucky. The optimist within me wanted to keel over in giddy adoration of this film, but the narrative stickler kept kicking the optimist in the gut.
The only way to enjoy this film is to fall in love with it, and the only way to do that is to fall in love with its omnipresent character, played with gusto by Sally Hawkins, relegated to supporting bits in previous Leigh films, but getting the never-leave-the-screen treatment here. Poppy is a thrift-store explosion on legs who takes the film’s tagline (”The one movie this fall that will put a smile on your face.”) very seriously, so seriously in fact that she threatens to stray over the line from “adorable” to “insanely annoying” in a heartbeat. It’s a great performance, certainly, but one that requires you to like the character. Barring that, there’s not much to see here folks, move along now please.
Leigh, famous for his “Look Ma! No script!” style of filmmaking, runs Poppy through a series of vignettes, not unlike the ones you might find in a popular children’s series with a spunky, irrepressible heroine. There’s “Poppy Goes to the Chiropractor,” “Poppy Dances the Flamenco,” and the black sheep of the series, “Poppy Befriends a Crazy Homeless Man For No Apparent Reason.” The majority of the film, however, takes place in the “Poppy Takes a Driving Lesson” edition, and this is where Happy-Go-Lucky shines. Poppy’s instructor, played by Eddie Marsan (whom you might recognize as the slimy convict from Hancock), is the polar opposite of her. Gruff, miserable, bigoted, and wholly unpleasant, watching him face off against the Technicolor Poppy is like…well, how does that line from The Dark Knight go? – “This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.” Hawkins and Marsan are brilliant here, and watching his blood boil as Poppy keeps tossing fuel on the fire is one of the film’s real joys. Sadly, these moments are too few; you spend the rest of the film wondering when Poppy’s next driving lesson is.
is not a bad film, just one that puts all of its eggs in one basket. If Poppy gets into your system like she was intended to, this might be one of the year’s best films. I simply liked it more when it was called “Amelia Bedelia” and I was reading it to my daughter.
Happy-Go-Lucky is currently playing at the Circle Cinema. Call 592-FILM for showtimes and tickets.
About the author:
Evan Derrick loves movies, loves talking about movies, and even makes them from time to time. In addition to being the founder and senior editor for MovieZeal.com, he is also a member of the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle and a father of two beautiful children. He can be reached for comment or complaint at firstname.lastname@example.org.