Archive for the ‘British Films’ Category

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“Happy-Go-Lucky,” dir. Mike Leigh

September 5, 2009
Sally Hawkins as Poppy in "Happy-Go-Lucky"

Sally Hawkins as Poppy in "Happy-Go-Lucky"

Unrelenting sunniness can be very irritating. At first glance, it can come off as unnatural, most likely forced, and given closer scrutiny, it can be much worse. For some who insist upon acting in a state of perpetual cheeriness, it can feel smug – an enforced disconnect with the rest of the world, self-serving in the way it fosters one’s own gratification without engaging others beyond a superficial level.

The great beauty of this film is how Poppy is none of these things. Characters like her court disaster, especially when they comprise an entire picture, but Sally Hawkins and filmmaker Mike Leigh have created someone that’s bright and engaging as she is rich and complex.

Eddie Marsan and Sally Hawkins in "Happy-Go-Lucky"

Eddie Marsan and Sally Hawkins in "Happy-Go-Lucky"

The film has certainly drawn its share of detractors, but I don’t think they’re giving Poppy enough credit. There’s nothing insular about her nature – her blissful disposition is marked by a deep curiousity towards others, one devoid of condescension. It’s especially clear in key private moments, when there’s no one else but her and someone she doesn’t easily relate to. She puts up no walls and rarely treats anyone like a peripheral figure merely passing through her life.

In what’s possibly the oddest, most memorable scene of the whole film, a rambling vagrant is neither the subject of open amusement or something to be avoided. Her curiousity towards him becomes as much about caring as anything else. It’s these people, the “difficult” ones, that she ultimately connects with, or at least tries to with absolute sincerity, and the same quality in her gives full weight to the picture’s climax, when a complete lout’s heartache is actually felt as real tragedy.

Happy-Go-Lucky may seem atypical of Mike Leigh, better-known for dark, brutal masterpieces like Naked and Secrets & Lies, but the harsh lessons in those films make this one possible. Real happiness doesn’t exist in a vacuum, nor does it get forced into being. Its realization is a road marked by pain, not just one’s own but others’ as well. For Poppy to acknowledge that and, in her kindest moments, to reach out to those lost in darkness is a remarkable display of compassion, the kind that’s always in need but rarely asked for.

Alexis Zegerman and Sally Hawkins in "Happy-Go-Lucky"

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