it possible to remain completely, irrepressibly cheerful in a world which
seems determined to knock you down whenever it can?
The latest film by eccentric British
director Mike Leigh is a character study which explores just this question.
Poppy (a star-making and surprisingly
nuanced performance by Sally Hawkins) is a London school teacher who is in
the middle of this constant up cycle. She smiles and laughs and quips
and tries desperately to bring happiness to all around her.
This could be an annoying character trait
- in fact if you met Poppy in passing chances are her eternal sunshine would
get on your nerves - and yet through the two-hours of Happy-Go-Lucky
we get to know the woman and see she is not insufferable, delusional nor
insane, though she does occasionally dip a toe into all these ponds.
Her eternal cheer seems to be more of a
defense mechanism. If Poppy does not acknowledge the darkness, maybe
she can keep it at bay. However, through her interactions with people
in her life - including a bitter driving teacher, a violent school student,
her emotional pregnant younger sister and a slightly deranged homeless man -
we come to see how much Poppy cares for people and how important it is to
her to try to help people.
Like much of Leigh's work,
Happy-Go-Lucky does not have a traditional three-act story structure.
It is a loosely connected series of scenes which do not always push the plot
forward but always illuminate the characters in surprising and intriguing
This is also Leigh's most light-hearted
film in years. It is not exactly a comedy - though it does have some
laugh-out-loud moments - in fact it has some surprisingly dramatic turns.
However, Poppy's world is one of color, light and resplendent cheer and
Hawkins' supernaturally strong performance (for an actor it's much harder to
play happy than sad) gives the film an essential and undeniable sense of
hope and unrestrained goodness.
This is a true feel-good film.
Unlike Slumdog Millionaire, the more-hyped film by another respected
Brit director, you get the feeling that the characters of Happy-Go-Lucky
actually like life and care about other people. However, because
Happy-Go-Lucky is more subtly structured and doesn't have a big cash
payoff, this film has mostly flown underneath the radar - though Hawkins did
get a strongly-deserved nomination for a Best Actress Oscar.
Towards the end of the film, Poppy's
roommate points out that she it is impossible make everyone in the world
happy. True, Poppy concedes, but it can't hurt to try.
In a world of cynicism run amok, Poppy's
absolute refusal to give up on her sunny disposition becomes strangely brave
and rebellious. Hard as it is to believe, the world may be better
place with more of this kind of brave mutiny in the harsh light of hard
reality. Maybe belief in the essential goodness of life and mankind -
despite all evidence to the contrary - is harder than becoming jaded.
After all, trying to spread happiness is an honorable pursuit, even if it
might be essentially fruitless in the long run.
can't hurt to try.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: March 14, 2009.