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Happy-Go-Lucky - comedy DVD / arthouse and international DVD review
HAPPY-GO-LUCKY Rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America curledupdvd.com rating: 4 1/2 stars
Actors: Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, Alexis Zegerman, Elliot Cowan, Andrea Riseborough
Director: Mike Leigh   Distributor: Miramax
DVD release: 10 March 2009   Runtime: 118 minutes
(1 disc)
Format: AC-3, Color, Dolby, DVD-Video, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen

DVD features: Aspect ratio 2.35:1, Audio (English - Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround), Subtitles (English, Spanish), Behind the Wheel of Happy-Go-Lucky, Happy-in-Character, Audio commentary w/ dir. Mike Leigh

I think I'm in love.

That's how I felt after seeing Happy-Go-Lucky and my welcome introduction to Poppy (Sally Hawkins). The free-spirited, quirky and consistently optimistic Poppy is an elementary school teacher who shares a flat with her best friend (Zegerman). She retains her cheerfulness even when she encounters a few hard life lessons along the way, as well as some decidedly un-cheerful characters - her sullen, very pregnant younger sister, a hotheaded flamenco instructor, or an alarmingly cynical driving instructor. Her choice of profession is fitting, for she is the kind of warm-hearted person whom children, perhaps everyone, needs in their lives.

At first I thought I had the film figured out: Poppy will be seen as cheerful yet dangerously na´ve, only to be brought down to earth when she realizes sad truths about the "real world." The film, surprisingly and refreshingly, does not follow that course: Poppy is not na´ve. She is quite aware there is sadness and darkness in the world, and she encounters some of these moments a few times in this film, be it her bike being stolen, or a child in her classroom being mistreated. Furthermore, these moments do affect her. What is different about Poppy is that she deals with these moments, but does not let them beat her. She genuinely likes people, likes her life, and, most importantly, likes herself. Unlike too many people, she chooses to be happy.

A strange scene in the middle of the film first seems out of place but is in fact very true to a her character. Walking home alone one night, she hears a noise under a bridge and finds a fearsome bear of a man loudly and maniacally repeating the same phrase over and over again. It would have made perfect sense on the surface for Poppy to run away as fast as she could, yet she doesn't do that. She actually talks to the man, even asks him if he has eaten anything. While the man does not snap out of his derangement, there is a sense that he softens, as he knows she's there and even perhaps appreciates that she is taking the time to talk to him. Poppy is cautious around him and aware he might be dangerous, but her genuine kindness and cheerfulness extends even to an outcast such as him.

The film's anti-Poppy is Scott (Marsan), her driving instructor. He is everything Poppy is not: cynical, angry, racist, and a conspiracy theorist. Unlike Poppy, who enjoys loud, colorful clothing and garish, long boots, Scott always dresses in a black shirt and denim jacket. For some bizarre reason, he names the three primary mirrors on a car after fallen angels (with the rearview mirror named Enrahah). Their driving scenes are hilarious and the highlight of the movie as Poppy unintentionally brings out the worst in Scott - the more cheerful and goofy she acts, the angrier and more borderline psychotic he becomes. They are truly a mix of oil and water -though perhaps oil and a match might be a more fitting metaphor.

Hawkins and Marsan are outstanding in their key roles. Though less "showy" on the surface, it is often exceedingly more difficult to play the hero than the villain, as well as to play a character that is friendly, happy and likeable than dark. Marsan is also terrific; it is clear that his anger barely conceals his loneliness and neediness. Their extraordinary final showdown, in which the true essence of each character is fully displayed, is hilarious yet also tense and sad at the same time (Marsan particularly shines here).

I strongly recommend this little gem of a film. Like the best films do, it entertained me, yet I also came away feeling a little different, like I had learned something. At the end, I had a sad realization: I wish I was more like Poppy, but too often I'm more like Scott. Fortunately, I've still got time to change.

  • Behind the wheel of Happy-Go-Lucky: a doc on the trickiness of filming the critical driving scenes.
  • Happy-In-Character: an entertaining featurette with Director Leigh and stars Hawkins, Marsan and Zegerman regarding the development of the main characters and what they mean to them.
  • Audio commentary by director Leigh

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reviewed by Trent Daniel
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