Irony-free Leigh take on living, love and London
I had a creative writing professor once who would often ask students, “Is this a slice of life or a real story?”
I asked myself the same question after watching “Happy-Go-Lucky,” a charming new British film written and directed by Mike Leigh.
Our happy-go-lucky protagonist is Poppy (Sally Hawkins), a primary school teacher in London whose main problem in life is being entirely too nice to people.
But to most moviegoers - and likely to most readers of this review - that doesn’t really seem like too big a problem in the grand scheme of things. For most of the film, Poppy simply goes around town as her irrepressibly cheerful self, saying “hiya” to a grumpy bookseller (Elliot Cowan) and grinning at her soberly serious driving instructor (Eddie Marsan). She’s the type of girl who, after injuring her back on a trampoline - of all things - giggles during the painful physical therapy session that follows.
There really isn’t much in the way of a conflict to center the plot around, which would force me to answer my old professor’s question by saying Happy-Go-Lucky is merely a slice of life.
Nevertheless, it’s still a pretty delightful film. Poppy is a character comparable to Phoebe from the U.S. TV series “Friends” or Natalie Portman’s Sam from “Garden State”: quirky, colorful and not afraid to laugh in what can often seem a rather grim world. But by being lumped into this group, Poppy also runs the risk of being received as incredibly annoying. Fortunately, Hawkins is able to contain her character’s ebullience so as to come across as endearing - at least to this viewer. I can’t speak for more sullen folk.
Hawkins here is really the belle of the ball, and most of the supporting characters aren’t worth mentioning, unless you want to talk about the cute new man she meets (Samuel Roukin) or the state of her driving instructor’s temper and teeth.
While the film is called Happy-Go-Lucky, Poppy’s world isn’t necessarily so. Her part of London, Camden Town, doesn’t exactly have the same sunny scenery of Notting Hill or other, more picturesque boroughs of the city. Its market is one of my favorite weekend shopping spots in London, but this is the place that produces such figures as Amy Winehouse, not Hugh Grant.
So while Poppy is able to brighten up most scenes with her outlandishly vibrant ensembles, even she must recognize the hardships of everyday life, such as child abuse, homelessness, racism and loneliness. It’s interesting for the audience to see what, if anything, can wipe that cheeky grin off Poppy’s face.
By touching on such issues, Happy-Go-Lucky isn’t entirely uneventful, but judging by Poppy’s state in the film’s closing scene, none of the action in the story has made a significant impact on her. She’s simply been going about life spreading her joy as best she can.
I wouldn’t say Happy-Go-Lucky is a bad movie, but I wouldn’t call it life-changing or meaningful in any way. But these days, it seems moviegoers are appreciating a bit of “Mamma Mia!”-esque escapism in the cinema. So perhaps it’s all right to sit back and smile while enjoying this cheerful slice of life.
Comedy / English
By Hannah Bae Contributing Writer [firstname.lastname@example.org]