Is she having a laugh?
An obnoxious central character smirks her way through Mike Leigh's "Happy-Go-Lucky."
By JOSHUA TANZER
You will either chuckle or cringe through "Happy-Go-Lucky."
The lead character, "Poppy" (Sally Hawkins), knows which one she would choose. "Bring a smile to the world" is her motto she even says so at the end, in case you hadn't picked up on it already.
|Written and directed by: Mike Leigh.|
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Alexis Zegerman, Andrea Riseborough, Samuel Roukin, Sinead Matthews, Kate O'Flynn, Sarah Niles, Eddie Marsan, Elliot Cowan, Karina Fernandez, Caroline Martin, Stanley Townsend.
Cinematography: Dick Pope.
Edited by: Jim Clark.
Related links: Official site
Broadway between 62nd and 63rd
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New York Film Festival, 2008|
Me, I was cringing. I'm a critic. It's my job.
"Happy-Go-Lucky" is a departure for Mike Leigh, and yet it isn't. Leigh has tended to make excruciatingly slow movies punctuated by one knockout scene, and this one is a fast-paced comedyish movie, for a change, punctuated by one excruciatingly harsh scene.
To me, it isn't much of a comedy. Poppy, in her own mind and probably the filmmaker's as well, is supposed to be a perky little angel who spreads happiness wherever she goes. (A friend compared her unfavorably to the fabulous "Amélie.") But in fact she is an entirely different person the one who has nothing to say but can't shut up. As a substitute for a colorful personality, she dresses in multicolored clothes; similarly, as a substitute for being interesting, she snaps back at anything other people say with one-line inanities. If you knew her, you would avoid her.
There are maybe four very funny jokes in "Happy-Go-Lucky," and none of them belong to our protagonist. Her roommate, Zoe, in fact, has the funniest line of the year without giving too much away, when you hear the name "Stravinski," that was it. Also, when the girls go for flamenco lessons, prepare for the awesomeness of Karina Fernandez as their melodramatic teacher. Just don't expect much from Poppy herself.|
Who is this perpetually cheerful but inevitably less lovable than everyone around her main character? What is she about? They say a comedy is a story where people get what they want but what does Poppy want? Self-respect? Quite the opposite she has none. A man? Well, she laughs that idea off whenever it comes up, like she laughs off everything. Is her pasted-on grin a cover for some secret inner complexity? No, she has very nearly nothing going on in her head at any time. She doesn't actually seem to want anything, and very little happens on her journey not seeking it.
This leaves me pondering exactly which story Leigh is telling. Is it really what it seems that of the lovable angel spreading smiles wherever she goes? Or is it very different from its surface the story of the maladjusted pixie who craves to be loved (or maybe valued) but doesn't know how?
| ||Poppy has nothing to say but can't shut up. As a substitute for being interesting, she snaps back at anything other people say with one-line inanities. If you knew her, you would avoid her.|
A couple of serious things intrude on Poppy's trippy existence, and when they do, she is surprisingly up to the job. She is a different person.
The first is a crisis that happens at school when a mop-headed boy shows his antisocial nature, bullying another youngster in class, and Poppy the teacher ditches her reflexive giggle and gives the problem the uncharacteristically serious attention it needs. The second instance is a grown-up version of the same thing.
Tension has built up over the course of the whole movie between the barely-paying-attention Poppy and her strict, highly strung driving instructor Scott. If there's one great scene and one great performance in the film, it's that of Eddie Marsan as Scott, as he finally blows up. This is the "Mike Leigh" moment.|
In fact, I almost wish it could have been Scott's movie that would have been a story of some intensity and surprise. As it stands, aside from a few great jokes and this one quintessential scene, I could do without "Happy-Go-Lucky" entirely. Two minutes, let alone two hours, is too long to spend with happy, sappy Poppy.
|OCTOBER 17, 2008|
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