Published Oct 16, 2008Writer/director Mike Leigh (Secrets & Lies) is at his best when he fashions sharp dramatic comedies with a healthy grounding in realism. With his new film, Happy-Go-Lucky, Leigh doesnt exactly abandon this strategy but examines a broadly comedic, even irritating, heroine within the context of drab normality. The results are humbly successful, at times, yet gratingly annoying at others.
Poppy (Sally Hawkins) is the kind of exuberant young woman who radiates positive energy, with a smile tattooed across her face and an inability to avoid making bad jokes during every social interaction. Poppy is charming to her friends but severely irritating to most strangers. She works as an elementary school teacher by day and acts like a perpetual adolescent during her free time.
The bulk of the storys dramatic arc rests on the relationship between Poppy and her misanthropic driving instructor (Eddie Marsan), whose frustration with her often coaxes each of their most vulnerable aspects to the surface.
The performances are nearly all excellent (specifically Hawkins and Marsan) and theres rarely a scene that doesnt feel plausible or genuine. However, Leigh wants you to be charmed by Poppy, as evidenced by the aggressively whimsical score, but Poppy isnt nearly as cute or endearing as shes intended to be.
At times, her character is engaging but overall her shtick wears quite thin after two hours. Poppy is like the love child of Amélie and The Offices David Brent: ebullient and positive yet also cringe-inducing and awkward.
While Happy-Go-Lucky may fulfil most of its meek aspirations, its not unreasonable to expect more from a veteran director like Leigh. Our investment in his characters works as an idle curiosity at best, lacking any sort of resonance beyond the five or ten minutes it takes to exit the theatre. (Maple)