Happy-Go-Lucky (2008): a 4 out of 10 movie review
Now I've been told that Mike Leigh (the director of Vera Drake & Topsy-Turvy) is a genius. That being said, I decided to test this bold statement from my (usually unreliable) source and watch his latest movie Happy-go-Lucky. Being a British film I expected no frills entertainment with no effects whatsoever and it to be completely character driven. This is not a bad thing. I think the best films out there are driven by excellent dialogue. So I began this two hour movie with high hopes (coincidentally the name of another Mike Leigh picture). As I expected, the film was a very honest portrayal of London from the perspective of a reluctant adult.
Happy-go-Lucky follows the story (or lack thereof) of Poppy (starring Sally Hawkins) who is one of those people seemingly stuck in her youth. When I say "youth" I don't mean teenage years. What I am actually referring to is Poppy's seemingly naivety and childlike attitude. She responds to most events in the film with an unhealthy optimism and smiles. The question is, can we cope with watching a grown woman smile continually and insists on making "joking" comments throughout the film? Well for most us, the answer is a resounding: NO! For most of us, watching someone this happy just makes the audience angry. Perhaps it is because people get most angered when they are faced with something (or someone) they do not understand.
The main cast is a fairly solid affair with Sally Hawkins being accompanied by Alexis Zegerman (her best friend Zoe), Eddie Marsan (as the driving instructor Scott). and Samuel Roukin (as the social worker named Tim). Included in this list of good casting choices is that of Stanley Townsend (who plays a tramp). Townsend manages to make an indecipherable character decipherable. He speaks complete gibberish and yet if you pay close attention, you realise what is trying to be conveyed. Marsan as Scott manages to get progressively angrier throughout the film. He acts (initially) as the voice of reason. His comments of "grow up" to Poppy is something that you can't help thinking.
Now just because I thought the casting was spot on, doesn't necessarily mean I actually enjoyed the film. The fact is, although I try to "get" thematic heavy movies, I simply do not have enough grey matter to decipher what is happening. Perhaps it is because when I go in to watch a movie, I want to relax and enjoy it. Having someone smarter than I am, explain to me the underlying themes afterwards does nothing for me. That being said, whilst watching it you do slowly fall for Poppy's charms. This most annoying character (must be an award for that somewhere) who cannot end a sentence without inhaling deeply (as if she has been submerged for over a minute and has had to come up for air) actually starts to grow on you. Indeed, it is about the time when you realise that she is not completely naive, she just chooses to be optimistic. Of course anyone within range of a person like this in real life would send them to the local mental asylum pronto. However as it stands, as long as you didn't walk out of the cinema (or switch off the DVD) within the first 40 minutes, you may be pleasantly surprised.
I can only assume that this movie is more about what is not said as opposed to what is said. This would ordinarily be fine if the main characters would actually shut up for more than 2 seconds at a time. It is basically a 2 hour long talkathon with Sally Hawkins playing the lead. Sometimes you need a break. Indeed, Mike Leigh offers us that break with a very quiet scene with Poppy and a Tramp that changes tone temporarily. However it is not long before the incessant talking begins again. I wouldn't mind so much if the character of Poppy wouldn't just agree or repeat every other character. It seems needless to me.
The driving instructor scenes are by far the strongest in the overly long film. Eddie Marsan does a fantastic job as the conspiracy theorist instructor who misconstrues Poppy's playfulness as a form of bullying. The banter is sharp and well executed by both actors and it holds the film together isand provides a useful timeframe.
Overall, you leave Happy-go-Lucky with a great deal of questions. The largest of these questions being "could you really live a life as positive as Poppy's"? For me the answer is simple: NO NO NO NO NO! God No! Now the fact that a movie is capable of making you consider life in a different light shows great strength. You honestly can't tell me that Total Recall (with Arnie) made you think about how you treat others in your life (after watching it).
Any film that makes you forget about the fact that it is a film, is so much more. Happy-go-Lucky is not a story about a woman (in serious need of some medication). It is in fact a catalyst to question whether we all should be this angry all of the time. This movie will not appeal to most. I'll admit that. Who it will appeal to though are the thinkers; the people who procrastinate. As a DVD purchase then it is a good choice. You'll watch it the first time and not quite get the purpose of it all. If you brave another few viewings though, it will be a worthy asset in your (movies for rethinking life) pile of DVD's.
My Rating: 3.2 out of 10 (the pace needed improving, but overall an enjoyable watch)
Your Rating: 8 out of 10 (It is not for everyone. I enjoyed it, so I gave it a high score. So there)