We only have to spend two hours with her.
When I saw a trailer for Happy-Go-Lucky many moons ago (I believe it was when I saw The Counterfeiters, which I would recommend to all and sundry), it appeared to me a movie about an insufferably cheerful woman. When I finally went and saw it, I was proven 100% correct! I mean, I went into it expecting to see an insufferably cheerful woman, that’s what I got, and that’s not what I’m complaining about. This is a weird little film, and I believe it’s “film by committee” – but the committee is that of the director and actors, rather than any studio. A strange experience to be sure.
Poppy (Sally Hawkins) is one very happy woman. She teaches at a Primary school and starts taking driving lessons from Scott (Eddie Marsan), an incredibly angry man. That’s it. That’s the movie.
Well, it’s not the movie, but to give an outline would be to simply recount every scene in the movie. Rather than working off an established script, I recall reading that the actors workshopped it with director Mike Leigh, rehearsed a bit and then filmed the results. It’s really a collection of scenes built around the idea that every Saturday, Poppy has a driving lesson with Scott. Poppy isn’t really insufferable because she’s infectious. It’s not quite in the league of Speed Racer‘s “I’m laughing because I can’t believe I just saw that” brand of enjoyment, but there is a certain incredulity involved in enjoying her adventures.
Happy-Go-Lucky makes you smile but it’s a manic sort of smile, just a bit too much in the way of awkward nicess. Poppy and her friends are all charming enough characters but there’s such an awful lot of charm that it overflows and the real world simply wouldn’t be able to accommodate them. It’s a mostly good movie, though, with only a couple of missteps: an extremely long scene with a homeless man, and the majorly awkward visit that Poppy and her sister make to their pregnant sister and her husband. Hawkins is very good, though, and the movie isn’t entirely lighthearted: at several points (the best points, I would argue), Poppy realises that a smile and a laugh can’t solve every problem in the world, and that there are junctures at which this reaction would be wholly inappropriate. When it all comes to a head, she’s patently the one not in the wrong – and it’s rather scary, really. You get the feeling that maybe she has learned a lesson, that maybe it’s not bad to go around like she does but maybe not quite so much.
See, that’s my problem with the movie: I don’t know if it has a message, or if it’s just a piecemeal intersection of some characters who you kind of like but don’t really know, with the addition of a handsome (or “fit) man some ways in. It’s good, but it feels very long, and you struggle to piece together the “why” of the film in a fashion that’s not strictly up for scrutiny. I can imagine a lot of people not being able to slog their way through it, and frankly I wouldn’t be able to blame them. I think I liked it, but it’s a movie that overall didn’t uplift me or kick me down. It’s not as featureless as the recently seen Forbidden Kingdom, but you’d be hardpressed to pick it out in a lineup.