Mike Leigh Starring: Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, Alexis Zegerman,Andrea Riseborough, Samuel Rourkin, Sinead Matthews, Kate O'Flynn Distributed by: Momentum Pictures Film will be released on 18th April 2008 in the U.K. & 26th September 2008 in the U.S. Review by Michael Edwards
rating: 2.5Grand master of British film Mike Leigh returns with another highly improvised effort charting life on this sceptred isle. His usual style and cinematography, supplied by the ever-present Dick Pope, provide the usual mix of bubbly ordinariness punctuated by moments of unexpected poignancy. The film is pretty much what you'd expect from Leigh stylistically, and that's part of the problem really. There is very little unexpected or exciting in this film that ticks its merry way along without really providing much substance, it is certainly a far cry from the insight of Mr Leigh's previous works. Happy-Go-Lucky follows thirty-something Londoner Poppy (Sally Hawkins) as she goes about her daily life as a primary school teacher. The plot is a loose structure of characters she meets: a complicated driving instructor whose bitter loneliness has festered over the years leaving him bitter, angry and racist; her flatmate and closest friend with whom she shares everything; a schoolchild who is having trouble and home and a nice-guy social worker with whom Poppy clicks, and who may be the one who drags her away from her contented life as a singleton. So, if it is (as it usually is with Mike Leigh) a heavily character-based piece, how can I justify my comments that it lacks depth? The fact is that the very ordinariness of this bubbly, upbeat, and often comic film makes the depths of a majority of characters uninteresting - like it or not, the crux of this very special director's earlier works has always been the poignant grittiness of the 'ordinary' characters that inhabit his tales full of woe. The comic elements which I think exist even in his darkest movies like Vera Drake functioned on two clear levels, they illustrated how characters coped with the trials of their lives, which were made doubly difficult by the fact that nobody ever noticed how difficult these supposedly 'ordinary' working-class lives are, and they served as a stark counterpoint to the tragic moments that surrounded them. Here the contrast was not so clear, Poppy provided 90% of the comedy and other characters provided 90% of the pain and that made for a far simpler and less rewarding dynamic. The performances were, however, outstanding. As we will have come to expect by now, Leigh's methods of developing characters in direct collaboration with the actors really gets the most from his cast and produces performances that are the envy of directors worldwide, be they struggling arthouse folk or huge Hollywood darlings with a budget Leigh could only dream of. Eddie Marsan in particular gave a stand-out performance as Scott, the aforementioned troubled driving instructor, who really added a much needed injection of drama to the proceedings, but Sally Hawkins moulded beautifully to the role of Poppy, effortlessly assuming this relentlessly kind and cheerful persona of a woman most of us would be absolutely astounded to see existing in real-life London. All-in-all, Mike Leigh has provided another interesting character study with a rare trait of being largely upbeat and positive with an innocently chirpy soundtrack providing an oddly charming atmosphere which I have only encountered before in The Short and the Curlies, a short film he made in 1987. But for all its upbeat charms, Happy-Go-Lucky lacks the bite that once adorned his great works of kitchen sink realism, and descends from the lofty levels of artful insight to inhabit a mild mediocrity of light entertainment.