Some Thoughts on "Happy-Go-Lucky"

It's been several weeks now since I first saw Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky (Miramax, 10.10), and I've been trying to put together some coherent thoughts about it ever since.

The truth is I'm not quite sure how I feel about it. I respected the film for what it was - a light on its feet serio-comedy about a young grade school teacher with an irrepressibly positive outlook on life. On the other hand, she began to wear on me after a while, becoming more insufferable than charming.

I don't think I would fully embrace Jeff Wells' negative take on the film, with its allusions of Poppy's "emotional fascism," but I agree with his basic point. I ultimately found her to be immature, unfit to be in charge of children because emotionally she is a child herself - she seems wholly unable to take anything seriously, until the end of the film when the bitter unhappiness of her beleaguered driving instructor (Eddie Marsdan) comes to a boiling point, and she realizes that she can't make everyone happy.

Up until that point however, she greats every trial and every hint of unhappiness with a sing-songy joke that would make me want to strangle her if I spent any length of time around her. Leigh acknowleges that you can't make everyone happy, but the distance between Marsdan's hateful driving teacher and Poppy's bubbliness is vast - they are two extremes of the same spectrum, and I found it hard to root for a character who is so singularly oblivious of people's emotions around her. It's almost as if she can't grasp that everyone else doesn't feel the way she does. Until the end she's the epitome of a one note character.

Leigh's last film, Vera Drake, was one of my top five films of 2004. It's a grimly powerful film that I have great respect for, especially Imelda Staunton's stunning performance. Happy-Go-Lucky, on the other hand, seems so slight in comparison. I know it's like comparing apples and oranges, but Leigh's human insight doesn't seem to be as keenly displayed here, and the emotional impact lessened as a result.

I plan on seeing the film at least once more before it is released in theaters and I write my final review, so maybe I will feel differently by then. But as of right now my respect for the film comes with great reservations.


Anonymous said…
VERA DRAKE was also in my own Top 5 of 2004, so I'm with you again here (seems like we are agreeing quite a bit as of late) and I'm disappointed to here what you say about this new film...of course I haven't seen it yet.
Mattie Lucas said…
The strange thing is I came away with a solid, 3-star impression of the film, I was just bothered by the characterization of Poppy. That's why I want to see it again before I write a proper review, to see if perhaps I missed some finer nuances.

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