Poppy (played in a beautifully nuanced performance by newcomer Sally Hawkins) is an optimistic person. She is a 30-year-old elementary school teacher and lives a somewhat carefree life in London with her friend Zoe and her younger sister Suzy.
Poppy goes clubbing, peruses bookstores, goes trampolining, starts flamenco lessons and is always kind to strangers. Her positive attitude and joy of all things in life is a point of contention for other characters and is the focal point of Mike Leigh’s latest brilliant (and very British) film, “Happy-Go-Lucky.”
The film follows the day-to-day ups and downs of Poppy’s life, specifically framed by her weekly driving lessons with Britain’s angriest bitter cynic and occasionally racist driving instructor, Scott (played ferociously by Eddie Marsan). He takes things way too seriously and is constantly yelling at Poppy to focus on driving and to stop wearing heels. Poppy sticks with him because she is a good person, and this exchange gets explosive by the end of the film.
“Happy-Go-Lucky” explores Poppy’s attitude and wonders how one with such shining optimism deals with all the negativity in the world, or, frankly, how one deals with the world in general.
Whether it’s being constructive and open to all sides of the story when dealing with her colleagues’ complaints of parents or trying to understand the ramblings of a homeless man, Poppy isn’t naïve to issues; she simply refuses to take the easy and cynical route.
However, the people around her grow more annoyed and accusations of not taking life seriously enough by her third sister (who is pregnant with a mortgage) start to wear down on her outlook. She starts to understand that her shiny take on life may do more harm than good, but she takes it all in stride, or attempts to, to the best of her abilities.
What’s refreshing about “Happy-Go-Lucky” is the type of questions it asks: What is success? Is happiness measured by what we do or what we do in relation to others? Is pessimism necessary for survival? Can naivete and optimism exist separately from each other? Does one’s happiness discourage those who are unhappy?
I think director Mike Leigh is trying to say that ultimately, our attitude in life plays a huge part in our relationships to others and either you can take it or leave or it. Attitudes don’t necessarily make one’s path better or worse.
Some audience members found Poppy annoying and Leigh does not overly romanticize her in the slightest, but I absolutely fell in love with her.
Poppy is a strong, vulnerable and beautiful woman who through her very being refuses to let cynicism invade her heart and instead keeps her head up and her smile higher.