VOD film review: Happy-Go-Lucky
James R | On 18, Jun 2015
Director: Mike Leigh
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, Samuel Roukin
It’s sometimes hard to think of Mike Leigh as a smiley person, but his 2008 offering dispels any kitchen sink rain clouds, leaving behind a big, stupid grin. Introduced by an offbeat oboe, Sally Hawkins stars as Poppy, an Eastender with a sunny outlook on life. She goes out with her friends, bonds with her sister, and teaches primary school children to dress up as birds. She even takes up flamenco. Just for the hell of it.
But where convention dictates that a single female must be in want of a bloke, Leigh bucks the trend and lets Poppy stroll along with an assured, leisurely pace. Does she have anyone on the horizon? “Not a sausage”, she grins, perfectly content with the way things are going. At first, she’s so jolly it’s irritating: her bike gets nicked and all she does is lament the missed chance to say goodbye. As time passes, though, it’s hard not to warm to her disarmingly cheerful charm.
Poppy’s life is happy, but fairly uneventful. The biggest plot point is her taking up driving lessons. Her instructor, Scott (the fantastic Eddie Marsan), is a funny guy – peculiar more than ha-ha. Cursing those around him with racist remarks, he stresses out behind the wheel, while she looks on with mild fright. He lectures her on the way he sees the world, schooling her in the golden pyramid of mirror-signal-manoeuvre. At the top of the triangle? “En-ra-ha. The all-seeing eye.” Shouting this at the top of his voice, he sits in the passenger seat, a powerhouse of spitting, bitter intensity.
Her reaction? She laughs it off, teasing him and pointing at squirrels. Their interaction forms the main backbone of the film. Building up to an emotional climax, they play off each other with laugh-out-loud tension. It’s almost irrelevant that Poppy eventually finds a mate in social worker Tim (Roukin). Gleefully exchanging banter over drinks, their romance is treated as merely another component of her London life – a refreshingly relaxed, character-driven approach to telling her story.
As for this tale’s leading lady, Poppy is carefree, subtle and engaging – and Hawkins inhabits her completely. Sally’s performance is so flawless that she swings seamlessly from annoying to adorable in the space of two hours, radiating a philosophy of compassion, optimism and kindness.