Happy-Go-Lucky, the latest film from director Mike Leigh (Vera Drake, Naked), is, to my mind, revolutionary. The story centers on Poppy (Sally Hawkins), a non-neurotic, unmarried, 30-year-old woman. No, she’s not the ambitious career woman, as frigid as her eggs, which she had frozen for when she gets around to the whole “mom” bit. And no, she’s not a self-obsessed mess, prat-falling through life and crying into her Ben & Jerry’s when she doesn’t have a date on Saturday night. Poppy is unlike any woman I have encountered in film today: she is self-confident, fulfilled, and…well, happy. As Mike Leigh said at a recent New York Film Festival screening, Poppy may have a child-like wonder at the world, but she is also a responsible, functional adult.
That in itself would make the film something worth watching…maybe as a historical artifact. But Happy-Go-Lucky is just a pleasure to watch, start to finish. Poppy is a kindergarten teacher by day, London party-girl by night, a devoted friend, and patient older sister. She is also a bit daffy — a trait which infuriates her new driving instructor, Scott (Eddie Marsan). Scott is everything Poppy is not: pessimistic, close-minded, and angry beyond comprehension. Their performances are perfect, with both actors creating real people where others might have relied on caricature. In Poppy and Scott’s final driving lesson, Marsan reveals such depth and vulnerability as to make his performance the most memorable of the year. As for Hawkins, she holds the film together playing a woman equally comfortable with children and adults as she is with herself. Leigh told the NYFF audience that the story began with the idea of three sisters with different life outlooks, and indeed, the scene in which Poppy goes to visit her judgmental younger sister is only topped by the scenes Hawkins shares with Marsan.
There is no real structure or plot to the film, a feature which one might chalk up to Leigh’s method of screenwriting based off the actors’ improvisation. That said, this is not a movie in which people will be looking at their watches. The character of Poppy and the vibrant city in which she lives will have you hooked. In particular, the film’s thoughtful final moments will stay in your memory, both for the mood they evoke and the questions they raise — one such being whether the Eternal Optimist is something born or made.
RELEASE DATE: October 10th (limited; Miramax Films)