Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Movie Log: Happy-Go-Lucky

I've never seen one of Mike Leigh's movies before -- they've all vaguely seemed like dreary British kitchen-sink dramas, with added improvisational spice to make them extra-difficult -- but my brother recommended Happy-Go-Lucky, and I'm glad he did. (And, looking at Leigh's work, it seems my impression of him was formed more than a decade ago and hasn't shifted with the actual facts.)

Sally Hawkins is our main character, a 30-year-old London schoolteacher named Poppy, who is eternally, entirely positive. And the movie follows her through a few weeks of her ordinary life. There are more scenes of her driving lessons -- with the at-first-normal-seeming Scott (Eddie Marsan) -- than anything else, but it isn't really the story of her driving lessons. It's just a view into Poppy's life -- if anything, it's an examination of a character who insists on always seeing the happy side of everything.

Poppy can get annoying in her peppiness; she's one of those people who's always saying silly little things to break tension or just to lighten the mood, and that mode can be quite jarring. But she's authentic in it; we see her choosing happiness over an over again, in all different situations, at times when that's not the obvious choice. She's quite inspiring, by the end.

Happy-Go-Lucky is a loose, almost disjointed movie; these are scenes -- particularly one with Poppy and an inarticulate bum -- that have no connection with the scenes immediately preceding or following, and don't tie in any further down the line, either. Everything in this movie is from Poppy's life, but it at times becomes a collection of moments that don't all have much to do with each other. She does meet a nice guy late in the film -- that's him on the cover, with his face pasted onto a scene in which he didn't appear -- but the movie isn't about love or romance. It's about happiness, pure and simple, and how to find or make it. It's not as funny as it might appear; it's a drama rather than a comedy, and it's pleasant rather than humorous. But, with those caveats, it's certainly worth seeing.

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