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Poppy Cross is happy-go-lucky. At 30, she lives in Camden: cheeky, playful, frank while funny, and talkative to strangers. She's a conscientious and exuberant primary-school teacher, flatmates with Zoe, her long-time friend; she's close to one sister, and not so close to another. In this slice of life story, we watch her take driving lessons from Scott, a dour and tightly-wound instructor, take classes in flamenco dance from a fiery Spaniard, encounter a tramp in the night, and sort out a student's aggressive behavior with a social worker's help. Along the way, we wonder if her open attitude puts her at risk of misunderstanding or worse. What is the root of happiness? Written by
A shining occasion for modern cinema, "Happy-Go-Lucky" welcomely explores a range of emotions and themes.
On first impression, Mike Leigh's new film feels like a light-hearted, simple-minded and a briefly delightful flick. But when it comes to Leigh; you should enter with the assumption that you will leave drained from all other thoughts. Happy-Go-Lucky is no different. However, it has certainly got a balanced amount of comedic and dramatic elements, each outweighing each other once present on screen. The naturalistic and fast paced dialogue intertwined with slang and theory, with wit and sarcasm is contained for an intense, joyful and powerful viewing. Harsh and realistic danger is presented for emotional enhancement rather than the exaggerated situations in the conventional Hollywood film. We are set with a protagonist and remain with her to the end plus the pleasant charm of the British culture entwined.
Sally Hawkins shines as the lead, Poppy, in one of the best performances of the year, a seemingly naive extrovert with a very expressive and optimistic attitude towards life and all her hardships. She laughs at unfortunate events that she "suffers", such as getting her bicycle - her form of personal transport, of which she enjoys to wave at people whilst riding - stolen, as if it were a cruel irony and she gets the joke. This upbeat spirit is rarely broken, even if the polar opposite of attitudes comes into contact with her unless taken to the absolute limit. She is an inviting figure, one that which desires to inspire her mood and thoughts on life. In doing so, she becomes a primary teacher, when the mind is at it's spongiest. There is a scene where she experiments creativity with her long term roommate Zoe (Alexis Zegerman) in the form of cardboard boxes and more materials to make a bird-like costume. Poppy is the definitive authority figure in the film. To match her personality is the excessive clothes with often delicate unnecessary items just to provide bright colours in the darkest of hues in the scenes. This brightness transcends her performance and makes her my absolute favourite leading performance of the year.
The most expressive supporting performance comes from Eddie Marsan, as Scott, Poppy's driving instructor. However, his character is the opposite to Poppy's, always agitated and enraged when flaws occur. His character does not mix with her at all. The driving scenes are the utmost emotionally engaging scenes in the entire film and form the structure of routine giving a basis and understanding of the time frame therefore the development the characters go about in their relationships with each other - especially since they meet during his last shift so he wants to escape the working mode and enter the more relaxing mode of no responsibility. Scott constantly misinterprets Poppy's actions, as if she's sexually teasing him for her pleasure or patronizing his behaviour. During their rather short journeys of stopping, starting, arguing, repeating explanations - the tension really builds up. Every time Scott's rage is starting to show Poppy strikes him down with a joke to calm him; or maybe herself. Happy-Go-Lucky had the power to make a grin evolve across my face then wipe it straight off again within the same shot. Her comfort is very limited and only appears again with the most prominent support of Zoe (a wonderfully sarcastic performance which is an absolute joy to see every time) - even more so than her family that do appear not necessarily in an agreeable situation. There is also a rather striking and bleak scene in which Poppy encounters a tramp (played by Stanley Townsend) where he confronts her in a strange gibberish without a seeming understanding of his correct surroundings. This hobo is a symbolism of freedom, of complete and utter creativity with his language and imagination. When Poppy is presented with this person she is in a state of confusion as what to do.
This is the whole point of the film. Authority (Poppy), with it's intimidating and overbearing behaviour, overtakes that of the weaker society (the children), so fills their views when they'll most likely take it in without hassle and live by these thoughts. Despite allowing the children to express themselves through the medium of products she is still controlling them and not allowing complete freedom; yes, on the outside they may all be different, but technically they are all bird-costumes - therefore she is not able to properly inspire the creativity she wishes to do so. However, once presented with a form of society that has matured and developed their own opinions and morals it is more difficult to get through to them - hence the firmer attitude Poppy has to resort to in order to get Scott (this figure of society) to conform. The flaws become more prominent once authority is unable to abide by their own rules to make society work; which is shown during the dance classes as she is clearly out of time with everyone and making up her own moves. Or a simpler interpretation and a completely valid one, is that Poppy is a child at heart, therefore her desire to work with children and therefore her dependence on the older flatmate and the fact she prefers to use a nickname as apposed to her real name (Pauline). Or possibly willfully ignorant.
Other than Sally Hawkins incredible performance, Happy-Go-Lucky's strength comes from the balanced script, cinematography and editing, with the ability to achieve a range of tones therefore reactions from the viewer. Natural and sharp dialogue makes for always compelling and entertaining viewing. The colour is pure eye candy, with bright bold shapes and no hues between the colours giving the film personality within itself - without the help of Sally Hawkins. The score adds to the delight with a bubbly mix of string and jazz, reflecting the main characters. Although I completely understand how someone can find these irritable, I, however, find them an absolute joy; never wanting the intense, rewarding, enriching and enlightening experience to end.
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