Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Look, I’m happy Mike Leigh’s “Happy-Go-Lucky,” and its star Sally Hawkins, have received near-universal acclaim, but those who praise them purely for their effervescent upbeat spirit are probably not the most perceptive tools in the shed. The storyless flick, starring Hawkins as Poppy, a delightful, annoying woman who looks at everything in life with endless positivity, is a film about happiness and the way one chooses to live their life, but also about hardship and the perils of one’s choices, and what sort of environments can breed those decisions. If one emerges from the theater thinking it a simple crowd pleaser or feel-good romp, it’s fair to say they’ve missed the point. Leigh’s different movies tend to have varying degrees of reaction from different folks, and his most recent film – and most likely object of comparison – was the spectacular, and radically different, “Vera Drake.” “Happy-Go-Lucky” is light-hearted and insightful where that film was devastating and insightful, but while the lessened gravitas isn’t problematic per se, it does lessen the level of emotional investment or thematic weight.

Still, while the movie might not be hugely powerful, it’s perpetually interesting and absorbing (a major accomplishment considering the minimal narrative momentum), and creates one of the most loveable and fascinating characters of the year. It also features spectacular performances from Hawkins and Eddie Marsan, as the miserabalist Alpha to her Omega, that keep you involved throughout. Some critics have criticized a rambling sequence where Poppy engages in a dialogue with an incoherent, mad homeless man as superfluous or overlong, but in my opinion, it’s the movie’s brightest spot. The scene renders it impossible for us to dismiss Poppy as merely bubble-headed or thoughtlessly cheerful – it forces us to understand that she’s made a conscious decision to be the way she is, and witness the depths to which she’s willing to go to try to make others feel less down or alienated. Like this scene, and the movie, Hawkins’ performance is easy to simplify if one isn’t paying attention, but is significantly more complex than it initially appears, and deserves serious Oscar consideration in this very crowded year.


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