Sunday, February 15, 2009

Happy Go-Lucky

A review of Mike Leigh's latest film

Happy Go-Lucky has been described as Mike Leigh's first 'feelgood film', a 'lighthearted comedy' and 'lightweight' but in the words of the director himself, the descriptions are "nonsense" and don't take into account the "weight underneath" the film.

Set in contemporary London, Happy Go-Lucky is centred around Poppy (Sally Hawkins), a primary school teacher in her thirties. She's a relentessy cheery, lighthearted, perma-giggling, over-optimistic singleton. On her journey, a series of events put her positive approach to test. In particular, her encounter with Scott (Eddie Marsan), an emotionally repressed, self-combusting driving instructor who gradually develops a dark obsession with the protagonist.

Sally Hawkins' performance is extraordinary. She's brilliant at pissing the viewer off, but also at making you wonder if Poppy's giggles are genuine, psychotic or a simple front for emotional choking. Soon, however, it becomes apparent that Poppy is not as annoyingly shallow as she looks. At school, when one of her pupils is seen bullying his classmates, she shows there's more to the naive extrovert she comes across as. Her interaction with the people around her leads to a series of misunderstandings as well as some powerful and profoundly human scenes.

Leigh is the master of character development. His films stand alone without the help of any artifice or gimmick and Happy Go-Lucky is no exception. In the same vein as Secrets & Lies and All Or Nothing, the subtlety of his characters and the several layers make for superb vignettes of anxiety, neuroses and the constant feeling of a looming nervous breakdown.

A thoroughly enjoyable film.

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