The acting and charm of Sally Hawkins' portrayal of Poppy Cross holds together Happy Go Lucky.
Courtesy of Buena Vista Home Entertainment
By CAINE GARDNER
You know the type; the perpetual peppy soul who's always looking at the bright side of things and never seems to lose the spring in the step. Now take that to the nth degree and you'll have some conception of who Poppy Cross is.
Happy Go Lucky is director Mike Leigh's latest effort and it's safe to say, you haven't seen anything like it in a while.
Lucky follows the forever plucky Poppy (Sally Hawkins) as she greets every misfortune with a smile, a giggle and sometimes the most inappropriate of actions. Whether she suffers a stolen bike, encounters a raving mad driving instructor or a young boy dealing with troubles at home, she is ever the optimist.
When we first meet Poppy, she's just had her bike stolen outside of bookshop, but in true Poppy fashion, she shrugs it off and decides to give driving a go. Enter driving instructor Scott (Eddie Marsan), a ticking time bomb of conspiracy theories, frustrations and a lonely soul. The dynamic between Hawkins and Marsan is like razorwire. Her joy and his anger build a tension that results in one of the most striking scenes of the movie.
"En-Ra-Ha", "the golden triangle" and "Peep and creep" are just some of the golden rules of driving Scott attempts to instill in Poppy. Perpetually perplexed by Poppy's high heeled boots, Scott, it seems, is just one step away from the ledge. The scenes with the duo are the only steady momentum throughout the film.
It's amazing to discover that Poppy is a school teacher, but the scenes with her and the kids work well. Her patience, coupled with her unbridled joy, makes the position believable.
The film has no traditional story arc to speak of. We are just observers to Poppy's antics, but Leigh is able to make the individual snapshots add up to one beautiful composition.
Some of the highlights of the film are the scenes with Scott, but equally as powerful is a scene with a homeless man (Stanley Townsend) that is complete incoherent. His sentences twist together, begin, end rattle on and always lead to nothing, but Poppy listens intently. As the scene progresses, the man seems to calm and almost reach the cusp of reality as Poppy's comforting smile reassures every word.
Another scene that proves to be telling of the main character, but frustrates the viewer, is a scene in which a young boys reveals he's being abused a home. For the first time, you see Poppy's giggling exterior melt away and are able to see that she is more than what she seems. That being said, the scene is perhaps the weakest moment of the film.
We never learn the fate of the young boy, he simple disappears, and more frustrating is the way she handles the situations immediately thereafter. Instead of showing her and the social worker coming up with a way to help the boy, they flirt; she gets his number and the film losses some credibility. We never get to see Poppy let the dirty, gloomy outside world into her rainbow wallpapered cocoon.
Hawkins delivers an unbelievably brave performance as Poppy. This is the type of role only a small number of actresses could pull off and most would shy away from. Hawkins embraces the character and gives us one of the best performances in the past year. This is a creation that could grate a viewer, but Hawkins is able to deliver something of an enigma -- a person you normally couldn't handle, but in this instance, you can't help falling in love with. A brilliant performance.
Final Cut: Happy Go Lucky is a joy. The movie works because of Hawkins. A mishmash of scenes that could have fallen apart is strung together by Hawkins' beautifully toothy grin to form a splendid experience for any viewer.
4 out of 5 Stars
Happy Go Lucky
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, Alexis Zegerman
Director: Mike Leigh
Writer: Mike Leigh
MPAA Rating: R for Language
Available on DVD and Blu-Ray