Some, people out there, in our nation don’t have maps. And uh … I believe that our education like such as in South Africa, and the Iraq, everywhere like such as …

Golden Mug


Best Actress (Sally Hawkins)

Theatrical Release Date: 10/24/2008
Director: Mike Leigh
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Alexis Zegerman, Eddie Marsan, Kate O’Flynn, Samuel Roukin

Dotting the arthouse theaters of the nation right about now is “Happy-Go-Lucky”, the latest film from writer/director Mike Leigh. Normally known for more heavy subject material like “Vera Drake” and “Secrets and Lies”, he ditches this convention (on the surface) and instead brings moviegoers a heartwarming and all-too engaging look at Pauline ‘Poppy’ Cross – an English woman who over-exemplifies the idea of seeing the world through rose-colored glasses.

Poppy (Sally Hawkins) has lived with her best friend Zoe (Alexis Zegerman) for a decade, teaches primary school, sees the bright side of every event and if you only got a quick chance to meet someone like her, you’d either think she was overly medicated or keeping human bodies in a basement freezer.

The brilliance (and I realize that word’s magnitude) of Mike Leigh’s script is the gradual development of Poppy’s character. What is at first a cloyingly sweet and perky quasi-version of Mr. Bean becomes someone fully capable of all the emotional colors of the rainbow … just with a positive outlook and the ability to give people the benefit of the doubt. Instead of being dragged down by the negative elements of real life, Poppy stays true to her self and would rather being a force for change in the right direction – rather than another cog in the depression machine.

Hawkins is no stranger to Leigh’s films, having been a cast member of both “Vera Drake” and “All or Nothing”. This time, with the lead role in her hands, she quite possibly could have sneaked her way into a nomination for my own annual Golden Mugs awards. Her performance is so natural and familiar that I wished more people in my life were like that character.

Also a credit to Leigh’s script is the way he managed to make a character study film have a recognizable plot. So often, it’s one of the other; either too much time is spent examining a character’s peccadilloes that there isn’t room for a beginning, middle and end or the film is paint-by-numbers, getting audiences to the endpoint without really divulging anything real or interesting about its characters.

In “Happy-Go-Lucky”, Poppy is at a crossroads in her life. Though a successful teacher, gifted with the ability to connect with her students, her family life is a mess and her love-life is non-existent. Through driving lessons with a surprisingly creepy and endearing instructor (Eddie Marsan), flamenco lessons with a crazy señorita from Seville (Karina Fernandez in a stand out role), a fortuitous visit by a social worker (Samuel Roukin) to one of her students and a sisterly reunion, Poppy manages to create a healthier emotional balance to her life.

Now, I realize this film isn’t for everyone. I found it tough to warm up to Poppy because of my general distrust of pathologically perky people … sort of like my wariness around clowns (you can’t smile all the time). However, as Hawkins and the script delve deeper into the character, it would take the heartiest of curmudgeons to deny her likability.

My biggest issue with the film stems from the political and social commentary sprinkled into a few of the discussions between the characters. While Leigh was looking to work these in naturally, as issues like these do come up in real-world interactions, they felt forced and preachy. I’m all for expressing opinion, I just prefer not to do so from a fiery pulpit.

There’s also a rather ambiguous scene in which Poppy has a discussion with a homeless man that seemed to confuse the audience at the screening. While I drew my own conclusions about the scene (and how important it was to fleshing out her character), I could see some people being lost in the woods without their bread crumbs because it wasn’t all spelled out for them. While I enjoy films that do this, expecting the audience to have paid enough attention to understand things without being hit over the head, maybe one quick sentence of dialogue would have helped here … maybe … I like it as is.

Still, don’t let that dissuade you. If you want a touching film, full of laughs and not without its share of heart, “Happy-Go-Lucky” is a gem that will probably be a little tougher to find in the googleplex landscape but it’s well worth the effort and I’m giving it a 4 out of 5. If there was any justice in the world, distributors would trash a few prints of “Max Payne” and replace them with this … a guy can dream, right?