Happy-Go-Lucky (Miramax, R)

film_happy-go-lucky_sm.jpgTo paraphrase H.G. Wells, if anything is possible then nothing is interesting.








Poppy Cross (Sally Hawkins) is either the happiest, most optimistic person in the world, or the most annoying. Or maybe she’s both at once, depending on your mood of the moment and your tolerance for adult fairy tales.

To say that Poppy is the lead role in Mike Leigh’s latest film, Happy-Go-Lucky, would be understating the case: The film is really one long character study of her, so your reaction to it will depend largely on whether you buy into her character and the world Leigh has created around her.

Poppy teaches elementary school in central London and enjoys the single life: clubbing with the girls, living in a rented flat (and happy to not be on the "property ladder," as her younger sister puts it) with fellow teacher Zoe (Alexis Zegerman), bouncing on a trampoline after work and riding her bike around London in high-heeled boots and crocheted sweaters. It’s sort of a shock when you learn that she’s 30, since her demeanor suggests a recent college graduate who could be excused for blowing off boring topics such as saving for retirement.

When the bike is stolen, Poppy decides to take driving lessons. Her instructor (Eddie Marsan) is a man singularly unsuited for his chosen profession: rigid, short-tempered, and impatient with beginners. It’s really no surprise that he later reveals himself to be a bigot and a stalker, capable of frightening outbursts of violence. Marsan does a good job making the character both believable and interesting, but it must have been frustrating because this role, like almost everything else in the film, seems contrived for the purpose of giving the central character something to play against.

Happy-Go-Lucky is one of those films you have to buy into absolutely, or it’s just one long slog until the final credits. It sure didn’t work for me; while I appreciated Sally Hawkins’ efforts in the title role (and it gave her great opportunity to demonstrate her acting chops), I found the film as a whole to be neither psychologically believable as a story about ordinary people, nor sufficiently fascinating in any other sense to reward the major suspension of disbelief which it demands.

There’s not much of a story arc in Happy-Go-Lucky, but there’s not supposed to be. It’s more a series of episodes in Poppy’s life, with a cast of supporting characters including various fellow teachers, her law-student sister, a flamenco dance instructor, a taciturn bookseller, a troubled child, a handsome social worker…you get the idea. And because Poppy lives in a happy bubble of her own making, it’s clear from the start that she can never be in any danger, even when wandering into an industrial wasteland at night to engage with a babbling tramp.

To paraphrase H.G. Wells, if anything is possible then nothing is interesting. So I didn’t find Happy-Go-Lucky to be interesting, and also found the title character to be quite annoying and rather a bully to anyone who doesn’t want to join in her chirpy small talk.

The technical elements in Happy-Go-Lucky are excellent. Cinematographer Dick Pope creates a sense of London while avoiding the obvious tourist shots: we do get a glimpse of St. Paul’s and the Gherkin, but the sight we see most often is the "Finsbury Park Road" sign near Poppy’s flat. Music by Gary Yershon sets an upbeat tone while referencing nostalgia for simpler times, or at least times that seem simpler in retrospect. | Sarah Boslaugh

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