Thursday, 9 July 2009


Lowdown: An always smiling woman deals with life’s challenges.
A few weeks ago we’ve watched Vera Drake and greatly enjoyed the experience (thus proving we have some masochistic tendencies in us, given the rather tragic nature of that film). We’ve enjoyed it so much that we wanted to see more from director Mike Leigh. Turned out we’re lucky: Leigh’s most recent release, the 2008 film Happy-Go-Lucky, has recently become a weekly rental item at our video rental store.
Like the other Leigh films I am familiar with, Happy-Go-Lucky is a very English production of a very English setting. Unlike Vera Drake, though, it’s a contemporary story taking place in contemporary London. The film follows a short period in the life of Poppy (Sally Hawkins), a 30 year old single woman. You can say a lot about Poppy and you learn a lot about her as the film develops, but the one thing you notice as of the word go is that she always seems happy and always carries a smile on her face no matter what. Even when her bicycle gets stolen in the film’s opening scene. Guess that’s why they called the film Happy-Go-Lucky.
As we progress in the film more and more challenges beckon Poppy through her interactions with the people around her. We learn she lives with a female friend of hers and hangs about with her sisters and other females but we don’t see guys. Through pressure from her friends we see her start taking driving lessons. We learn she works as a teacher and we see her start a Flamenco class with her school principle. Poppy seems to be dragged along, but then she also exposes herself as a doer: She makes special efforts to be creative in class and she deals with a kid bullying others in school. The main event, if anything can be labeled as a main event in Happy-Go-Lucky, is Poppy’s interaction with her driving instructor (portrayed by the ever excellent Eddie Marsan, who also played in Vera Drake and showed some comedy talent in Sixty Six).
The lack of a genuine main event drives the notion that Happy-Go-Lucky is a film that raises speculations on how to deal with life’s challenges. The film exposes us to a set of seemingly random challenges taken from a random sample period of a normal woman’s life and, aside of giving us a glimpse into modern British society, goes on to demonstrate a sample of methods to deal with these challenges: closing oneself off (the driving instructor’s way), conformism - as in blindly doing what everyone else does, and Poppy’s way of just dealing with things one at a time with a smile on your face. The problem is that Poppy, as happy and laughing as she is, can also be quite annoying: when she takes on driving but does so with a silly attitude she managed to annoy the hell out of me. Her driving instructor might have been a compromised character, but that still doesn’t mean driving should be taken lightly. I have to add that Poppy’s character reminded me of my sister in law, and not only because both share professions as well as an incomprehensible English accent: both are talented, both have had to deal with a lot, but both have attitudes that drive me crazy. And I guess what I’m trying to say is that I did find myself identifying with Happy-Go-Lucky’s chief character.
Best scene:
Poppy, her roommate and her youngest sister go to visit another sister. That sister is pregnant and moved to live far from London with her husband and her mortgage. As they chat the night away (with the husband forbidden from touching his Playstation), the pregnant sister presses Poppy not to waste her life and have a child and a mortgage sooner rather than later. Now, doesn’t that sound familiar? What is also familiar is the way the pregnant sister’s arguments end up exposing her insecurity with life rather than Poppy’s shortcomings.
A typical high quality scene from Mike Leigh.
Technical assessment:
Let me start by saying it's always nice to have subtitles, and especially so when dealing with a film featuring local dialects and accents. I know it’s London and I know London is a central place, but a fact’s a fact – dialog in Happy-Go-Lucky is hard to comprehend. So why did the producers of this DVD opt for no subtitles?
I was impressed with the picture quality. It goes to show that a properly upscaled DVD can give genuine high definition a hard time. Sure, it’s not Blu-ray quality, but I suspect the majority of people won’t notice.
The sound was also nice. Granted, there wasn’t much taking place other than dialog and the ring of jewellery on Poppy’s hands, but whatever was there felt like it was there. The choice of having a DTS soundtrack probably helped.
Overall: Happy-Go-Lucky is a rather weird film, especially with the way it ends. That makes it unique, but I cannot say I’ve enjoyed its uniqueness. I therefore give it 3 out of 5 stars.


Wicked Little Critta said...

My two cents: For me, my issue with Happy-Go-Lucky was that I spent the entire time waiting for...something. Then when the "something" happened, it wasn't what I anticipated at all, and so I had to reconsider the whole thing a lot after it was finished.

I really liked it, I liked the simple idea dealing with life, and how attitudes can really shape happiness. The cast was excellent, and the scenarios throughout were fun and had a realness to them that a lot of movies lose in translation.

You're right, subtitles would have been helpful. I think I remember having to pause and rewind a couple of times, thinking they had switched into a different language.

Basically, if you know what you're getting into, I think you're in for a treat.

Wicked Little Critta said...

Have you seen Once yet?

Moshe Reuveni said...

I agree with you, but I think the other Mike Leigh films (especially Secrets & Lies) do a better job of delivering the same type of deliverable.
And no, I've never heard of Once.

Wicked Little Critta said...

I brought it up because it's another good "simple" movie with characters who are difficult to understand. :)
Excellent movie though, with great music. I know you don't care, but I think it won best original score at the Oscars last year or whenever it came out.

Moshe Reuveni said...

Me not hearing about this film of yours is something I find rather scary. One of the things that annoy me about Australia is that you're only exposed to mainstream media (which translates to American TV shows and Hollywood crap). If it wasn't for me being exposed to Mike Leigh back in Israel, where such stuff is hyped, I would have never stumbled upon Happy-Go-Lucky.
I wonder what other good things I'm missing just because not enough money is made out of them.