Review: Happy-Go-Lucky

moviewebPoppy (Sally Hawkins), the protagonist of Writer/Director Mike Leigh’s “Happy-Go-Lucky”, seems to live in her own kooky world. We first meet her as she rides her bicycle through the streets of London with a warm, bright smile on her face. She sees a friend that she knows and her smile gets larger and she waves. And then she does the same thing to another friend that she happens to see. And then we realize she’s waving to people that she doesn’t know.
She pops into a bookstore and chatters to a disgruntled employee working there who seems irritated by her sunny optimism and the way that she laughs at her own jokes (when she takes a book titled “The Road to Reality” from a shelf, she quickly puts it back, commenting, “I don’t want to be headed there, do I?”). It’s hard to know whether to side with Poppy (she seems sweet!) or the employee (she seems annoying!). Exiting the bookstore, she finds her bike has been stolen and quips, “We didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye” before moving on.
How is this level of cheery exuberance possible? Mike Leigh’s out to show us exactly how, and Hawkins comes to quickly show us what a wonderfully charming character Poppy is.
The film doesn’t have a stereotypical plot, working instead as a character study for Poppy by looking at a few chapters in her life that test her unwavering sense of optimism. We see her care deeply for Zoe, her best friend and flat-mate of ten years (Alexis Zegerman), her youngest sister who is just finishing college, and the kids she teaches in her elementary school class.
But maybe Poppy cares too much. She also can’t help but feel for the cranky driving instructor Scott (Eddie Marsan), her more moody sister living in the suburbs, and, in one scene, a homeless man she passes on the street late one night.
The scene with the homeless man sounds cliché and really shouldn’t work, but it somehow does. While walking home one night, Poppy hears a mumbled chant coming from an alley. Her face lets us know that she’s a little scared and uncomfortable (and she even murmurs “What am I doing here?”), but she goes to investigate. There she meets and strikes up a “conversation” of sorts with a homeless man who doesn’t really speak in words so much as sounds. They manage to communicate, though—Poppy really listens to the man.
It’s at this point in the film that it becomes clear that Poppy is very much living in the real world, she’s just chosen to go through life open, engaged, and happy. Poppy’s flat-mate tries to lecture by saying that she, “can’t make everyone happy.” But Poppy brushes it off and replies, “No harm in trying, is there?”
Leigh succeeds in making “Happy-Go-Lucky” both a funny and thought provoking film. Hawkins won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical/Comedy not only for being sublimely funny (and Poppy is hilarious), but for showing us a woman who, in the sad and mixed up world we’re living in, chooses to enjoy life and leave other people smiling in the process. “Happy-Go-Lucky” is the definition of a feel good movie.