Poppy is a girl who lives life to the fullest, always happy and outgoing, never letting life get her down. This is a slice of her life.
Happy-Go-Lucky begins with Poppy (Sally Hawkins) riding her bicycle to a bookstore. While in the store, she encounters a disgruntled employee as he goes through his day begrudgingly and does what she can to try to cheer him up. She doesn’t let her failure at this attempt get her down and leaves the store as happy as when she entered it. She finds her bike has been stolen when she reaches the street and, after a small quip about not being able to say goodbye, continues home, still remarkably happy.
Sally Hawkins, who won a Golden Globe for her performance in this film, is at times a wonder while at other times an annoyance. She goes through almost the entire movie with a smile on her face and a chirpy quip at her disposal. By day she is an elementary school teacher, joyful among the cheerful children she mentors. In her spare time she spends long hours with her circle of friends, takes driving lessons to hopefully earn the right to drive a car and takes dancing lessons.
Mike Leigh, whose last film Vera Drake earned him three Oscar nominations, takes a more light hearted effort but installs it with the same unique characters he is known for. In the first half of the movie, Poppy grated on my nerves as most scenes were just moments in her life and she was never as funny as she herself believed. There was entirely too much chit chat and I wondered where the movie was going. It seemed to be just a movie about a girl who was annoyingly happy despite anything that could possibly bring her down. What made the movie successful was Leigh’s determination to make the story not about the character but about the world in which said character lives.
The surrounding characters are what makes Poppy stand out and helps Sally Hawkins deliver an award winning performance. Comedian Eddie Marsan plays Scott, the man tasked with teaching Poppy how to drive. He is angry, pessimistic and distrusting. While Poppy makes jokes and is always laughing, he is yelling, spouting conspiracy theories and showing signs of racism. The movie rests on the lack of compatibility between these two individuals. While Poppy wears her feelings on her chest, Scott keeps his true feelings bottled up, using his anger and frustration to cover up his inadequacies and fears. To contrast these two characters gives new depths to the embarrassingly enthusiastic Poppy.
There are also small scenes where Poppy is living large and high among the children in her class until she spots a young boy who continues to start fights and beat up on other kids. When she calls in a social service worker and discovers what is troubling the child, it is a small moment that really allows Hawkins to shine. Another rewarding scene is one that takes place under a bridge where Poppy chooses to approach a homeless, seemingly crazy man, just to offer up some conversation. It is obvious this man has not carried on a conversation with anyone in a very long time and Poppy, while fearing for her safety at times, reaches out to the man and offers friendship and a smile.
Poppy is a character that could have become a caricature but, thanks to the acting of Hawkins, is given a compassionate, likeable quality. Poppy is an individual who is attracted to all that is light in the world, but stands surrounded by darkness never allowing it to affect her. The world built here is magnificent and helps the annoying first half of the movie rise into something very special by the time we reach the conclusion.
Commentary – Director Mike Leigh does the talk track for the movie. Leigh is chirpy and enthusiastic but he spends a lot of time telling us exactly what we are watching on the screen. I love his enthusiasm but would have preferred more antidotes and behind-the-scenes chitchat but he spent too much time boringly describing what we already know.
Behind the Wheel of Happy-Go-Lucky (04:27) – This feature is a short look at the shooting of the driving scenes and talks to Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan and director Mike Leigh.
Happy-In-Character (27:16) – This is a comprehensive feature about the creation of the story. Cast members and the director talks about the development of the characters in the story, including how they built the back story before shooting the film. It is an interesting feature and the cast members are very informative about their character building.