The trailer to this feel-good, British comedy boasts that the film asks the question: what makes us happy? On a superficial level, sure. This might be true. But the movie is much more complex than that and deserves a good looking in to.
Happy-Go-Lucky is written and directed by Mike Leigh. Leigh has been directing since the seventies, and his bigger hits include Vera Drake (2004) and Secrets and Lies (1996). His writing in this film rivals Britain’s The Office (without the incredible awkwardness). The quick wit and sarcasm is remarkable. The lead is named Poppy and is played incredibly well by Sally Hawkins (you may have seen her in a small roll in last year’s Woody Allen flick, Cassandra’s Dream). She’s a thirty-year-old elementary school teacher with great students, great friends, and a fantastic outlook on life. The problem is, she’s entering adulthood and fighting it all the way.
The opening sequence shows Poppy riding a child-like bike (with a basket and a bell) through downtown London(I think), waving at people she doesn’t know, a goofy smile glued to her face. She enters a bookstore and tries to make friends with the stand-offish clerk, even though he strongly resists. She goes straight to the children’s section and peruses the books. It’s clear from this moment on, that she’s a child, refusing to grow up, despite a clear necessity, and the prodding of those around her. Her unshakable sense of optimism is never shaken. When she finds her bike has been stolen, she can’t help but laugh that she didn’t get to say goodbye. Serious back pain (due to the trampoline lessons she takes after school) simply makes her laugh and start taking flamenco dance lessons instead. These lessons, by the way, provide the setup for one of the funniest scenes in the movie where intensely passionate, and intensely unstable flamenco teacher (Karina Fernandez) loses control of herself. Poppy is able to stay positive even during her weekly driving lessons with Scott (Eddie Marsan) who holds such pessimism and contempt for life, it seems it’s his aim in life to break Poppy’s spirit.
Poppy’s friends have the same, or a slightly higher level of emotional maturity. They’re able to keep good jobs, and take care of themselves (for the most part), but still, they’re definitely not grown-ups. Happy-Go-Lucky is a compelling character study. Poppy never comes across as anything but polite, smart and charming. But between the lines, we can see her brimming with something else. Is it She can’t handle herself in adult situations or conversations, she isn’t able to add anything to these situations except clever jokes, and witty, but empty banter. The film is really asking: are we happy? Despite how much we try and prove to others that we are, it’s what’s inside that counts. A perky exterior doesn’t mean that someone is satisfied with who they are, and where they are in the walk of life.
Leigh’s direction is terrific. Sally Hawkin’s gives аn amazing performance. You’ll laugh to no end. And you’ll leave this film feeling great, while still taking away some important pearls of wisdom.