Saturday, November 22, 2008


I left the screening of "Happy-Go-Lucky" not sure what to think. At times like this I tend to lean on greater minds in the ladies' restroom.

We mulled over the movie we had just seen. Agreed that it was a bit slow getting started as director Mike Leigh set up Poppy's (Sally Hawkins) happy-go-lucky lifestyle with her affectionate girlfriends. But what was the director trying to say? A voice from the next stall suggested that Poppy chose to be happy. (Wasn't that a great lesson for these hard times?) But was there a darker motive? Was this character manic or a desperate people pleaser? Was her optimistic outlook making her life any better?

To be honest, sometimes her giddy, self deprecating laughter and banter got on my nerves. Director Mike Leigh brought out the maddening aspects of her buoyant personality by pitting her (brilliantly) against more pessimistic characters such as her control freak driving instructor, Scott (the hilarious Eddie Marsan).

Scott is driven to distraction by her attention deficit, high heeled boots, and constant cheerful chatter. He instructs her to always expect the worse. He can't conceive that she could be a teacher when she is so immature.

Polly actually has an inspiring rapport with her students. She demonstrates focused insight and empathy when dealing with a bully in her class. Actress Sally Hawkins took what could have been a one note character and shows us her deep empathy and the resulting sadness. She can't make everyone happy. And her own optimistic outlook is tested by a controlling sister, a hurt back, an angry dance instructor, and an odd run in with a homeless man. It's not easy to be happy. You have to work at it.

Poppy has chosen to be happy - even if it takes a bit of work. But is her happiness dependent on making others happy? Can she make her own luck?

I always find it helpful to go back to the opening image of the film to illuminate the theme... Poppy blissfully rides her new bike to a bookstore where she babbles cheerfully to herself and then to a disinterested bystander. Exiting the bookstore, she finds that her bike is gone. Oh, well. She quips, "I didn't even get to say good-bye." Lalala.

So it seems that she has chosen to be happy even when there's no one else around. But she's happiest surrounded by those who love and accept her.

Phil Villarreal summed up the theme perfectly in the first line of his review, "Happiness is a state of mind rather than a reaction to circumstances."

Phil Villarreal, of the Arizona Daily Star, really nailed this review.

OK. For mature insight of the film, check out Josh Valentine's review:
(I would have posted this in depth review rather than mine, had he written it sooner.)

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

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