An object lesson in character study
- Happy-Go-Lucky review by The Millbrooker
Mike Leigh is almost always associated with gritty (and, frankly, not very uplifting) dramas and uses highly unusual production methods; principally avoiding having anything resembling an actual script and just allowing the story to more or less develop as the cast live out their roles in front of the cameras.
Happy Go Lucky could be seen as Leigh's lighter side, offering humour aplenty as the central character, Poppy (Sally Hawkins), stumbles through life in a permanent state of supposed optimism and perkiness. Poppy lives in Camden in a candid and exceptionally close relationship with her long-time best mate, Zoe (Alexis Zegerman), and we are treated to what amounts to a series of vignettes from her life. Poppy is both endearing and exasperating; as an audience we find ourselves both loving her and thinking "I'm so glad she's not actually my friend" or perhaps more correctly "I'm glad she's not my responsibility". Inevitably we gain an awareness of the innate lack of depth to Poppy's stream-of-consciousness chatter, and are drawn to the profoundly insecure, frightened, childlike nature beneath the "bubbly" surface; this has been used as a negative critique by some, as if Poppy were intended to be a lesson to us all in how to be happy - this is nonsense. I found it to be an object lesson in character study. This is beautifully brought to the fore as the fraught relationship that Poppy has with her clearly unhinged driving instructor, Scott (Eddie Marsan) disintegrates to the extent that he physically assaults her. There's no doubt that Scott is disturbed and has disturbing views, but he is also the only person in the film to clearly show that endless babble and meaningless chatter do not constitute "happiness". We are. alas, never given the answer to what does actually constitute happiness, but that's probably beyond even Mike Leigh's outstanding talents. The film doesn't tell a story in the narrative sense, it simply immerses the viewer in someone else's life and surroundings, leaving you to take whatever "message" you might want from it. This seeming lack of direction is its true strength.
The performances are, without exception, fully rounded and as utterly convincing as I've ever seen. Mike Leigh's modus operandi certainly brings out the best in an actor sufficiently confident and talented to explore their character to the full. Highly recommended.
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Mike Leigh doesn't often disappoint to this degree; dire!
- Happy-Go-Lucky review by DW
I'm a great admirer of Mike Leigh's method of working but this film is dreadful.
Unusually, he's packed the cast almost exclusively with female actors & trusted them to grab the chance but they all let him, & themselves, down. With the exception of the lone male driving instructor (who probably got the part because Timothy Spall wasn't available) I didn't see any of the familiar actors who normally do Leigh proud. If he'd put the story line into the next age group we could have enjoyed the work of Alison Steadman, Brenda Blethyn & lovely Lesley Manville. For me, no Mike Leigh film is complete if it doesn't include Ruth Sheen.
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