Happy-Go-Lucky did great with the critics and film festivals but not a lot of people saw it. That’s too bad, it’s worth checking out.
Let’s face it; critically praised films are often boring. You want to watch Atonement again? I sure as hell don’t. So one good thing about writer/director Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky is that despite the fact that it has been showered by critical praise, it’s actually sort of fun to watch. Although it’s not quite as good as the critics would like you to think.
Happy-Go-Lucky isn’t a plot heavy movie. In fact, after the almost two hour running time comes to a close, you might think “well, what the hell was that all about?” Mostly it was about getting to know a somewhat idiosyncratic person who rather than having “adventures,” simply lives her life in London.
Poppy (Sally Hawkins) is a perpetually optimistic and somewhat childlike teacher living with her best friend Zoe (Alexis Zegerman). Regardless if her bike is stolen or if she wrenches her back jumping on a trampoline, she maintains a pretty sunny disposition. So, rather than have her get involved with a bank robbery, or a madcap wedding, or a bunch of smuggled diamonds, Leigh just invites us to watch Poppy live her life for a few days. She interacts with people, she does her job, she goes dancing, she visits her pregnant sister and Leigh just films it all and presents it without much connecting one scene to the next other than they are Poppy’s life.
The closest thing to a plot device is a series of driving lessons Poppy takes from Scott (Eddie Marsan). Scott is almost as tightly wound as Poppy is free spirited and their interactions, filmed inside his small learner car, form the core of the film. The rest of the movie, including a relationship for Poppy with social worker Tim (Samuel Roukin) and her interaction with a somewhat incoherent bum aren’t presented as means to an end, just parts of her life.
Because of the somewhat unique structure of the film, your interest in and liking of it will probably rest on how much you like (or love) Poppy as portrayed by Hawkins. I liked her (the actress and the character) but I did find her a bit much at times and I would have, frankly, preferred her to be used in the service of some sort of story. This felt a little too much like someone saying, “hey, come watch my funny friend for a few days” and then watching random things in her life for a week or so.
Happy-Go-Lucky is like its title. It doesn’t really try to say too much or do too much. It just takes a good melding of character and actress and presents them without much in the way of frills. Either you like Poppy and want to watch her live her life for two hours or you don’t like her and even ten minutes will be annoying. I’ll vote for the liking side, not head over heels love, but a strong liking. You can do worse.
Despite the plethora of critic’s awards and even a Golden Globe for Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky didn’t make a dent at the box office. That usually means a pretty bare bones DVD release, and this one stays true to form.
Director Mike Leigh does provide a commentary track. It’s somewhat low-key (like his films) and includes more that a little silence. But Leigh adds insight to the performances and scenes and his unabashed love for the movie and Hawkins makes it an enjoyable commentary.
Once you get past the commentary, though, the pickings get a little slimmer. There is a 27-minute featurette called “Happy-In-Character.” Hawkins and the other leads join Leigh in talking, extensively, about the process Leigh uses to write his script. This includes meeting with the actors and fleshing out the character’s backstory and then having the actors meet and using their conversations in character to form a basis for the script. The problem is that almost everyone says the same thing over and over again. One explanation was more than enough. However, if you love Mike Leigh films and can’t get enough of everyone talking about how great this process is, you’ll get a lot out of this extra.
Much shorter, but much more interesting, is “Behind the Wheel of Happy-Go-Lucky.” The driving lessons that Scott gives Poppy are shown behind-the-scenes. This includes the cars that were outfitted with cameras which allowed the actors to drive around London and do the scenes without relying on the usual movie driving tricks. Adding a greater feeling of realism to the scenes. Since these were the highlight of the movie for me, I really got off on seeing how it was shot.
That’s pretty much it on the DVD. The picture and sound are great and it helps to watch with the subtitles on as several characters have heavy accents and the dialogue can be low or fast in places. The gem here is the movie rather than the extras, so pick up the DVD for that and get a little bit extra out of the other DVD items as well.