Happy-Go-Lucky

"Excellent"

Happy-Go-Lucky Review


Centered on a plucky, chirping elementary school teacher in North London, Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky may, at first, look like a great diversion from the Salford-born director's working-class, kitchen-sink-realism directing style. All the dark tones, greys, blacks, and dark greens are traded in for some bright blues, reds, and oranges. There are no house-call abortionists or down-on-their-luck families who only find hope in the next pint, just a chipper Finsbury Park bird who always looks at the brighter side.

That isn't to say that the world is not still a cold place in Leigh's latest, his tenth feature. Poppy (Sally Hawkins), the teacher in question, finds herself confronted with Leigh's dire real world from the very beginning. In the very first scene, Poppy finds herself in a Haringey bookstore getting snubbed by a self-serious, Burning Man reject too invested in a philosophy tome to speak. Returning to the street, in an open nod to De Sica's Bicycle Thieves and the first of several minor injustices Poppy must cope with, the peppy educator finds her bike stolen but can only cackle in disbelief at the crime.

Leigh developed much of the dialogue through improvisation, as he often does, and there's a natural excitement in watching Poppy's exchanges teeter on the brink of outright awkwardness. The filmmaker focuses much of the film on Poppy's interactions with her driving instructor Scott (Eddie Marsan). A once-was punk and blatant racist, Scott finds Poppy's very being offensive, but that doesn't stop him from developing a small obsession with her. Intense even when not yelling, the great Marsan sticks Scott's face on permanent sneer and never lets his temperament wander too far from hostile. To Scott's dismay, Poppy finds the feral instructor's opposite and a proper boyfriend in Tim (Samuel Roukin), a social worker who visits the school when a child begins showing signs of abuse.

Despite the appearance of these two strong male presences, Lucky is an ambitiously female-centric work (Film Comment's Amy Taubin went as far as to call it a "corrective" to Sex and the City). Poppy is the middle daughter of three sisters, the eldest of which lives in the suburbs and is married with a kid on the way. The younger, of course, is a good-time girl with little shame in loudly criticizing a recent lay while she's in public. A trip to see the critically unhappy older sister and her wimpy husband allows for some subtle discourse on the role of women, but Poppy remains gleefully ambivalent.

Is this happy veneer just a coping mechanism? Rather, Leigh suggests that, happy or unhappy, one's view of life has more to do with chance than upbringing. Poppy's roommate and best friend Zoe (Alexis Zegerman in a strong, funny debut performance) registers just a few notches above cynical; a fellow teacher seems to register just a few below hopeful. But Poppy doesn't work in the median. In fact, she only settles down when dealing with a hobo derelict or handling one of Scott's more visceral outbursts.

Extreme personalities are nothing new to Leigh's work: Consider Vera Drake, who carried her loving mother routine even as she operated, or the meta-atheist depravity of a homeless rapist named Johnny in Naked. Poppy is the other side of the rainbow, a person of great lightness but not one of light intelligence. Hawkins' lovely performance renders Poppy a creation of very sincere femininity, and the thought that Poppy is less complex than other Leigh characters simply because she's happy strikes me as boorish and pretentious.

Perhaps the most welcome element of this lively character study is the fact that Poppy's personal problems are left that way, not extroverted into an American-friendly goal or substantial purpose. (Leigh has stated that he'd sooner stick steel pins in his eyes before dealing with Hollywood.) Poppy leaves the film very close to how she entered it but this doesn't lessen the ordeals that Leigh sets out for her. Leigh, whatever his worldview, has made peace with the fact that some people exist in absolutes. Whether his audience has is yet to be seen.

It's always sunny in Sierra Leone!



Happy-Go-Lucky

Facts and Figures

Run time: 118 mins

In Theaters: Friday 18th April 2008

Box Office USA: $3.5M

Box Office Worldwide: $18.1M

Distributed by: Miramax Films

Production compaines: Thin Man Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Fresh: 142 Rotten: 11

IMDB: 7.0 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Poppy, Alexis Zegerman as Zoe, as Scott, as Tim, as Alice, Kate O'Flynn as Suzy, Sarah Niles as Tash, Sylvestra Le Touzel as Heather, Karina Fernandez as Rosita, Flamencolehrerin, Stanley Townsend as Stadtstreicher, Caroline Martin as Helen, as Jamie, as Ezra, as Dawn

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

Contactmusic 2017 Exclusive

New Movies

Fences Movie Review

Fences Movie Review

After winning Tony Awards on Broadway, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis reteam for a film...

The Lego Batman Movie Movie Review

The Lego Batman Movie Movie Review

A spin-off from 2014's awesome The Lego Movie, this raucously paced action-comedy is proof that...

The Space Between Us Movie Review

The Space Between Us Movie Review

While the premise of this movie makes it look like a sci-fi adventure, the truth...

Toni Erdmann Movie Review

Toni Erdmann Movie Review

On paper, the idea of a two-hour 40-minute German comedy may not seem very promising,...

Gold Movie Review

Gold Movie Review

Based on a true story, this lively and sometimes outrageous adventure is packed with twists...

Loving Movie Review

Loving Movie Review

While this film tackles a huge issue in the history of race relations in America,...

T2 Trainspotting Movie Review

T2 Trainspotting Movie Review

It's been 20 years since we last saw four freewheeling young junkies from Edinburgh spiral...

Advertisement
Hacksaw Ridge Movie Review

Hacksaw Ridge Movie Review

Based on an astounding true story, this battlefield drama mixes warm emotion with intense action...

Sing Movie Review

Sing Movie Review

The quality of the animation in this musical comedy may not be up to Pixar...

Jackie Movie Review

Jackie Movie Review

Rather than make a standard biopic about the most famous First Lady in American history,...

Split Movie Review

Split Movie Review

After a few badly received sci-fi blockbusters, M. Night Shyamalan returned to his earthier style...

xXx: Return of Xander Cage Movie Review

xXx: Return of Xander Cage Movie Review

It's been 15 years since Vin Diesel walked away from his XXX role, killing off...

Manchester by the Sea Movie Review

Manchester by the Sea Movie Review

This may not be the cheeriest movie of the season, but it's so skilfully written,...

Live By Night Movie Review

Live By Night Movie Review

Ben Affleck launched his directing career 10 years ago with his film of Dennis Lehane's...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.