Rated R; Directed by Mike Leigh; Starring Sally Hawkins, Alexis Zegerman, Eddie Marsan, Samuel Roukin
Director and writer Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky from last year is one of those films that surprises. The director of Secrets & Lies, Vera Drake, and Naked has the ability to make interesting character studies with some very dramatic scenes. And yes, Happy-Go-Lucky also has a dramatic scene or two, but the primary tone to the goings-on in this lovely movie is good humor. This is certainly due to the main character of Poppy, a fun loving, look on the bright side of life kind of gal. Played by Sally Hawkins, Poppy is one of those movie characters that stand out from many of the stereotypes we often see.
In Happy-Go-Lucky, Mike Leigh’s masterful storytelling gives us a leisurely, episodic look at the life of a woman who refuses to allow any pessimism or cynicism in her life. She embraces whatever life tosses her way. A marvelous schoolteacher, a good friend, and loving sister, Poppy works hard at keeping things fun for everyone. She even tries to humor the dour driving instructor (Eddie Marsan in a pitch-perfect performance) and drives the man batty.
The movie flows along, and our irritation at Poppy’s attitude turns to appreciation. Poppy is an intelligent woman even as she giggles away at the chiropractor or at flamenco lessons. She ends up as so darn likeable, even as she deals with other characters not as happy as she. Sally Hawkins received a well-deserved Golden Globe® nomination for this role.
This sweet look at a single woman enjoying her life earned Mike Leigh an Oscar® nomination for Best Screenplay. Leigh has a distinctive method in creating movies. He will cast an actor and then create a character for that actor to play. Scenes are worked on in a long rehearsal period, improvised by his excellent actors. His films have a very natural feel in the way the story is told. Happy-Go-Lucky fits this mold. There is no point A to point B predictable plot points. Leigh allows a story to unfold, with the characters carrying the plot.
The cast of Happy-Go-Lucky is excellent. Eddie Marsan, as Scott, the driving instructor, stands out. The scenes with Scott and Poppy are funny and fascinating. The greatest drama comes from these two very different characters, who set each other off into bad behavior.
Happy-Go-Lucky is a lovely film that doesn’t strain our credulity or overwhelm us with overdone dramatics. Sally Hawkins and Eddie Marsan, along with the rest of the cast, keep things enjoyable. Mike Leigh’s film is worth checking out as his respect for audiences allows us a more mature film. Plus, it’s a pleasure to watch a movie and feel a smile forming on your face.