Happy-Go-Lucky (UK; 118 min.)

directed by: Mike Leigh
starring: Sally Hawkins; Eddie Marsdan; Alexis Zegerman; Samuel Roukin; Sinead Matthews

Michael says: "I’m a fan of Mike Leigh’s films, so the opportunity to see a new Mike Leigh film with Mr. Leigh in attendance was one I was thrilled to be able to attend (Thanks, IFFB). And I’ve gotta say, HAPPY-GO-LUCKY, which I had read very little about beforehand, really delivered well beyond my expectations. While it’s easy to say, this is Mike Leigh’s upbeat film, it’s much more complex than that. Sure, main character Poppy is almost preternaturally upbeat, but there are many layers and serious worldly concerns in Leigh’s story. When we first meet Poppy, she is riding her bicycle down the street, smiling at the world. She teases a serious young bookseller, then joins her sister, her roommate and a friend for a night of clubbing and drunken revelry. Their behavior is silly to the point of annoying, and we begin to think she’s going to giddily adolescent despite her years… someone who can’t seem to grow up. We quickly find out that Poppy teaches elementary school, and is a good teacher to boot! Her unyielding optimism comes from a desire to experience, to learn, to connect with others, and it is these qualities, her compassion, her empathy, that make her such a wonderful teacher and good friend. It’s not that Poppy sees the world through rose-colored glasses. She has her share of difficult situations: a student with troubles at home, a close-minded, high-strung driving instructor; and she doesn’t always make the right decision, but she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty, and always approaches situations with a positive attitude and a caring heart.

"As usual, Leigh works closely with his actors to create the characters and then in turn, create his magnificent films. Sally Hawkins (VERA DRAKE; ALL OR NOTHING) is nothing short of a revelation in HAPPY-GO-LUCKY. Eddie Marsdan (THE SECRET LIFE OF WORDS; VERA DRAKE) is magnificent as that driving instructor whose rigidity is all that’s holding him together. Newcomer Alexis Zegerman is thoroughly delightful as Poppy’s roommate, whose cynical, world-weary demeanor belies a smart, capable fellow teacher and is the perfect foil for Poppy’s enthusiasm. The pair are so genuine as true friends who love each other. The entire cast is wonderful, and Leigh’s filmmaking skills are in strong evidence. This is one of those marvelous movies that continue to resonate long after the final reel has ended. 5 cats"

Bruce says: "Most die-hard Mike Leigh fans will be disappointed to learn that CAREER GIRLS is the Leigh film that HAPPY-GO-LUCKY most resembles. Although I found the film curious on several counts, I can honestly call it enjoyable without damning it with faint praise.

"Poppy Cross (Sally Hawkins) is a one-of-a-kind girl, if you can still use the term for a thirty year old. She is persistently optimistic and cheerful. Almost annoyingly so. Sometimes she makes corny jokes that would make anyone else blush with embarrassment. Not Poppy. She lives with her best friend Zoe (Alexis Zegerman) and they have a solid, positive relationship. There is no steady man in her life. Poppy’s wardrobe is a psychedelic wonder. How can one person combine so many colors and patterns simultaneously? The interaction with her two sisters is not what it could be but Poppy struggles through. She teaches primary school. Poppy’s rapport with the youngsters is exceptional. She really throws herself into her work. Her classroom creativity rivals her wardrobe skills. One afternoon she has the children make bird masks out of paper bags. Soon the classroom is an aviary of chirping birds flapping their wings.

"Although she has no car, Poppy has signed up for driving lessons. Scott (Eddie Marsden), the driving instructor, is a misanthrope. He has his set routine and is not prepared for Poppy’s wisecracks. The friction begins with lesson one. Late one night Poppy walks home alone. On a dark somewhat street she hears noises coming from a deserted building man. She walks in to find a homeless man. When he makes threatening gestures, she cleverly maneuvers herself out of a difficult situation. Meanwhile Poppy has noticed that one of her little boys is beating up other children in the schoolyard. She talks to him but cannot get to the source of his anger. All these vignettes serve to paint a well-defined portrait.

"The driving lessons go on and on with Scott repeating the same mantra each week. Poppy discovers him spying on her apartment building and begins to have doubts about his intentions. Way too much of the film is devoted to this ancillary relationship that provides little help in determining whether or not the film adds up to anything more than a fluffy character study. To make matters worse, this subplot involves an annoying amount of overacting on the part of Eddie Marsden.

"To help the troubled boy, a therapist is called in. He interviews Poppy and the boy. He is instantly taken with the way Poppy puts the child at ease in a potentially tense situation, and then elicits feelings from the child. As he leaves he asks if they can see each other again. Suddenly Poppy has a boyfriend. Not once did he get a glimpse of the cheerful Poppy-puppet that has been on screen for almost two hours. For me, this was the big payoff, having Poppy's ultimate appeal based on a fascination with her internal, cerebral self as opposed to her flamboyant external persona.

"Sally Hawkins, a Leigh veteran from VERA DRAKE and ALL OR NOTHING who also appeared in Woody Allen’s CASSANDRA’S DREAM, creates an unforgettable character, no doubt about it. 3.5 cats

"(HAPPY-GO-LUCKY screened at the 2008 New York Film Festival.)"