I consider myself a pretty happy person. Of course I have my grumpy days but it takes a lot for me to stop being optimistic. So I looked forward to seeing a movie called Happy-Go-Lucky (limited release Oct. 10), the latest offering from Mike Leigh (Vera Drake, Secrets and Lies). I’d heard buzz from the festivals that this movie is guaranteed to make me happy. Instead I was slightly annoyed.
The very capable Sally Hawkins stars as Poppy, a grade school teacher who embodies the titular state of being. Even when her bike is stolen, she only regrets not having had the chance to say goodbye to it. She lives with her best friend in a rented flat, goes clubbing on weekends, and takes driving lessons every Saturday from an instructor who’s always angry. Her younger sister thinks she’s being irresponsible by not buying a house and settling down to start a family but Peppy–er, Poppy–insists she’s happy and loves her life.
It’s to Hawkins’s credit that Poppy is likable but at times the script makes her do implausible and foolhardy things, all because she’s so trusting in the goodness of people. In one scene, she’s walking home alone at night in a scary part of town (already unwise) when she sees an intimidating-looking homeless man. Though the man seems unstable and ready to erupt into violence, she sits and chats with him for awhile because she doesn’t want him to be alone. It’s an incredibly altruistic act but if this movie weren’t a comedy–or if it were real life–there’d be a very good chance she wouldn’t emerge unharmed from the encounter.
Poppy’s exuberance becomes exhausting at times, with Hawkins constantly giggling, rolling her eyes, making faces, doing funny voices, acting cute. It’s as though her personality has only one note. It’d be frustrating trying to have a serious conversation with someone like Poppy because she responds to everything with a joke. I’d wonder what she’s covering up with all the funny stuff. It’s not until near the end of the movie that Poppy has some sobering moments and it’s nice to see she can actually feel a different emotion.
I certainly don’t dislike generally happy people; I much prefer them to gloom-and-doom types. I just wanted Poppy to have a more three-dimensional disposition–that’s to say, more recognizably human–and perhaps an explanation of why she’s the way she is.