Happy-Go-Lucky
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Lately, movies in general have been pretty depressing. If you head to the theater, you’ll find death and Nazis and more death…and more Nazis—with maybe a suicide or two thrown in. So thank goodness for writer/director Mike Leigh and his overwhelmingly perky Happy-Go-Lucky.

Sally Hawkins stars as Poppy, an enthusiastic elementary school teacher who absolutely loves her life as a 30-year-old singleton. She’s got a great class full of kids to teach. She lives with her very best friend (and fellow teacher), Zoe (Alexis Zegerman). And she goes out dancing and drinking with her friends every weekend. Life just couldn’t be any better.

Even when Poppy’s bike is stolen, she takes it all in stride—and instead of getting upset, she takes it as a sign that it’s time for her to learn how to drive. But not everyone shares her positive outlook on life. And when she meets her kooky, over-stressed driving instructor, Scott (Eddie Marsan), she begins to realize that some people aren’t as happy as she is.

  
 
Though Leigh received an Oscar nod for the film’s simple, slice-of-life screenplay, it’s not really the story that makes Happy-Go-Lucky worth watching. Sure, Poppy’s day-to-day adventures are amusing, and it’s fun to watch her doing crafts with her class and giving it her all in her flamenco-dancing class. But, really, there’s not a whole lot to it. It’s not especially moving or thought-provoking or exciting. It’s just…quirky.

What makes Happy-Go-Lucky a noteworthy film is its spectacular acting. Golden Globe-winning Hawkins is absolutely effervescent as Poppy. At times, her energy is contagious—as is her big, goofy smile. At other times, it’s almost exhausting—and you can understand why strangers tend to go out of their way to avoid (or ignore) her. Still, you can’t help but be fascinated (and maybe even mesmerized) by her boundless energy. In a way, she reminds me of a mostly sober Amy Winehouse on Red Bull. She’s kooky and British and highly entertaining—and you’ll never really know whether you love her or you’re slightly afraid of her.

Marsan, too, is delightfully unhinged as the crazed driving instructor who just can’t stand Poppy’s bubbly, carefree attitude—though he refuses to give up on her. The more time they spend together, the crazier she makes him—and the more entertaining he gets.

So, thanks to Hawkins and Marsan, Happy-Go-Lucky is a refreshingly cheery little film that’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face. After seeing it, you’ll see the world—and your rearview mirror—in a whole new way.


DVD Review:
The DVD release for Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky is much like the film itself: simple but fascinating. Though the special features menu includes just three items, they’re all worthwhile.

The shortest feature on the disc is Behind the Wheel of Happy-Go-Lucky, a five-minute feature that shows how the scenes in Scott’s car were filmed (with Leigh hunched in the back seat). Another making-of feature, Happy-In-Character, discusses the process that Leigh and the cast and crew go through to create the characters and their story. And an unusual process it is, with actors working together with the entire team to build a film based on their characters. It’s interesting to see how the story takes shape (and, after watching this feature, you’ll understand why it’s so ironic that Leigh was nominated for the best-screenplay Oscar).

Finally, the disc also includes a director commentary track. I don’t usually make a big deal about commentaries, but this is probably the most captivating director commentary I’ve ever heard. Leigh is a simple and straightforward speaker, but he’s also absolutely spellbinding. Throughout the commentary, he tells the story through the eyes of a first-time viewer, pointing out details and asking questions along the way. It’s like taking a two-hour film class with a fascinating director. So, even if you usually skip over DVD commentaries, I recommend checking this one out.

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