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Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)

The one movie this fall that will put a smile on your face.

Directed by:

Mike Leigh

Rating: 5/10

Running Time: 118 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15

Country: United Kingdom

Go ahead—call me the Grinch Who Stole Happy. Maybe I’m just a bitter old lady, but I’m not on the Poppy train. I’ll be the first to admit I wasn’t nearly as enraptured by this awkward little thing, or by Sally Hawkins as the eternally happy schoolteacher, as all the critics and award-giving types. I hesitate to slam it too much, because I’m quite certain there are huge fans and potential huge fans out there who can find much to love about this film—I’m just not one of them.

Poppy (Hawkins) is a happy gal. She shares a flat with her best friend Zoe (Alexis Zegerman), has a job she loves as a schoolteacher, and has an active and exciting social life that includes clubbing with her friends, flamenco dancing, and driving lessons. She’s the girl who never seems to be down, and never wants to disappoint anyone. What we get is a snapshot of a period of several months in Poppy’s life, and though she emerges with her sunny disposition in tact, she does encounter naysayers attempting to steal her sunshine.

I didn’t get it. There’s just nothing here. Sure, Hawkins gives Poppy some depth by hiding insecurities and a nervous need for acceptance just below the surface, but it’s not that earth-shattering. In fact, she grated on my nerves, not because she’s happy, but because she’s so … so … Poppy. I’m all for inhabiting a role, and I love to see an actor become their character, but I was too distracted by her twitches and quirks to enjoy the performance. The best parts of the movie for me, ironically, given all the praise for Hawking, were a couple of the supporting players. Zegerman’s Zoe is a wonderfully subtle and understated balance to Poppy, and Eddie Marsan steals the whole deal with his absolute-other-end-of-the-spectrum driving instructor Scott. With those two characters, I thought, OK, both have the ability to shake things up; but alas, Zoe’s ambiguous possible romantic inklings towards her friend are only hinted at, and Scott is reduced to a caricature of anger—and how is Poppy going to lecture him about his driving when she can barely keep a straight face through most of her lessons? I’m usually a fan of quirky characters in movies that do nothing more than show their lives, but with Poppy, you either have to think she really is that happy, or you realize that the whole point is she’s not, she’s just covering up her need for acceptance with all the cheerfulness. Problem is, nothing made me care either way, and instead of a slice of life comedy about a lovably happy woman, we get a jumbled, sometimes amusing film without enough conflict to sustain interest.

It's Got: A performance critics loved, some great supporting roles, cool bird masks.

It Needs: Better storyline, more of a point.

Alternatives:

Ameile, Muriel's Wedding, The House Bunny

Summary

It’s like punching a puppy for me to say this, but Poppy’s more irritating than happy, and I found myself wishing for just a little bit more angst.

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