Studio: Miramax Films
US Rating: Rated R - For Language.
Film Length: 119 Mins
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1
Review Date: March 15, 2009
The Film - out of
Zoe:"You can't make everyone happy."
Poppy:"There's no harm in trying that Zoe, is there?"
The great British writer/director Mike Leigh, a master of ordinary working class slices of life (making even the simple, everyday seem alive and rich in extraordinary ways), delves deep into the life of a happy young woman called Poppy in this delightfully witty and warming comedy filled with an abundance of wonder at life. Leigh has written and directed unapologetically British films for years, including Secrets & Lies, Naked and Topsy-Turvy, turning his ‘character first’ filmmaking style to charming and effective works that often cover ordinary life through interesting stories.
Leigh is a filmmaker who captures the everyday people of England with piercing accuracy. And in Happy-Go-Lucky he cleverly weaves great conversation topics that take place everyday, such as growing up, the debates of parental responsibility and life’s road bumps that come up all over the place, into his screenplay with unassuming ease. He tells a free flowing story that follows Poppy in and through ordinary, everyday events like taking driving lessons, visiting a chiropractor, taking dance lessons and meeting someone – but all seen with the same pleasant outlook that Poppy has.
Poppy is, as the title informs, a happy-go-lucky spirit; free and fun and unfettered by life’s inevitable hurdles and occasional tumult. She lives a communal life, abound with smiles among her close friends that love her for who she is. Poppy is a primary schoolteacher, which suits her perfectly as she still sees the world with the easy-going, trusting eyes of a child. She is inquisitive, interested and happy to let life wash upon her like a tide. She is a unique character of generosity and warmth, happy to be happy and never concerned with letting the grumps settle in to her as it seems to with others. She is unflinchingly high-spirited and brings out, eventually, the best out of others, even when they fight against it. She takes driving lessons from a grumpy, conspiracy minded instructor called Scott, engages in Flamenco lessons along with her head mistress and friend, and remains positive and giddy even among her far more dour sisters.
Sally Hawkins is delightful, infectious almost, as the sparkling Poppy, easily deserving her Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress (Comedy). It would have been easy to overplay the comedic angle of the character, turning her whimsy and joy into something either saccharin or irritating, but with a light glance, a twinkle of the eye or a well placed pause, she gives her character a reality and a remarkable warmth that makes her entirely lovable. Eddie Marsan as the driving instructor, Scott, is incredibly good – the antithesis to Poppy’s optimistic outlook. He is the adult in their teacher/student relationship but is bitter and broken, dark and depressed and infuriated by Poppy’s apparent ambivalence to what he sees as the encroaching dire circumstances of life’s unavoidably unpleasant ways. In many ways, he reminds me of Paul Giamatti’s character Miles in Sideways, if Scott wasn’t self-pitying and wasn’t at all likable as Miles was. But Marsan’s loosed anger as he teaches poppy, filled with improvised moments, is solid. The remaining cast all exist as real people in Poppy’s life, true to the people she would have surrounded herself with. There’s Zoe, Poppy’s best friend and flat mate played by Alexis Zegerman, Dawn played by Andrea Riseborough, Alice played by Sinead Matthews, Suzy played by Kate O’Flynn and Nick, a nice guy that Poppy meets and begins a relationship with, played by Samuel Roukin
It is impossible to watch Happy-Go-Lucky without a smile on your face. Every little moment of life plays out with joy’s essence as we see it play out in Poppy’s world. And the characters are just so good. I was born and raised in the grey and green of the England, and because Leigh writes real people exceptionally well, every one of his characters is someone I knew, in some way or another. Someone real. The way they think, the way they speak and interact is truly natural and perfectly capture by the Leigh and excellently portrayed by the cast.
Leigh relies on plenty of natural lighting and simple framing of messy, complicated scenes to let the world his characters inhabit tell as much of the story as his natural dialogue does. And it works throughout the film. If Leigh has any weakness here at all, it is in how he relies on a light and fluffy music score to underline the moments on film that could get their just fine without it. But that is such a minor comment when weighed against the terrifically natural sensibility he puts into every scene; every frame. Happy-Go-Lucky is deliciously funny, real, rewarding and rich – a triumph all round.
Presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and enhanced for 16X9 televisions, Miramax shows off this delightful gem with a bright and happy transfer. Blues and yellows (prominent colors throughout – appearing like constant blue skies and warm suns) pop off the screen, even the concrete gray of Camden, where the film is set, is a little more vibrant that real life – but not beyond real life, just brighter in the way that Poppy would see the world. A clean image that’s a little soft, but still afforded a reasonably good amount of detail.
Happy-Go-Lucky comes with a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. This is a dialogue heavy film and the spirited dialogue is perfect coming out of the center channel. The score plays throughout the speakers and the surrounds come out with the occasional surround effect, such as the sound of traffic, but this really isn’t a film that was ever meant to wow you in the audio department. It does what it needs to in helping tell the story, and nothing more.
Audio Commentary by Director Mike Leigh – Lively commentary from Mike Leigh who enjoys every moment of this film as if it were his first time seeing it. He shares some anecdotes and allows the film to play before him from time to time without saying much, but all the while when speaking he is happy to tell us about his superb cast, authentic environments and important moments.
Behind the Wheel of Happy-Go-Lucky – (4:26) – Mike Leigh talks about the driving lesson dynamic in the film and its incredible vital value to the story and the characters. We get a look at the set up of filming inside that little ford used for the driving lessons.
Happy-In-Character – (27:14) – Sally Hawkins talks about her rambling, open, unaffected character of Poppy and writer/director Mike Leigh shares how Poppy was developed into who she was by marrying who actress Sally Hawkins really is to the character. The genesis of the actors becoming the characters and a dissection of the characters themselves is the real spark here and helps make this quite fascinating at times.
Happy-Go-Lucky is terrifically entertaining. A slice of real life enhanced by the joyous spirit of Poppy and her everyday experiences. Mike Leigh superbly delivers characters that exist off the frame and in the real world, infusing his screenplay with their vivid and recognizable tendencies, dialogue and expressions that bring a true sense of England into his film. Poppy’s joy may be a stroke of fiction in this film, but the joy we experience from it is perfectly real.