This was yet another example of an independent feature that I enjoyed more than Mike. I discovered "Happy-go-Lucky" on a list of the best films of 2008. It's directed by the British Mike Leigh, whose films we've enjoyed in the past (Life Is Sweet, Secrets & Lies, Vera Drake), but who tends to take fairly dark, cynical films. This took a different turn.
Poppy is a school teacher and a purely upbeat, positive person. She takes great pleasure in living, is incredibly trusting, and tries to see the best in every situation and person. To Poppy, life is one great, fun wild ride, and not worth living without a lot of laughter.
She has a wonderfully close and honest friendship with her flatmate, takes flamenco dancing lessons, and tries to keep the peace in her dysfunctional family. She signs up for driving lessons when her bike is stolen. She decides to make a project out of defrosting her hostile driving instructor, but then he moves beyond obsessive-compulsive, overcontrolling behavior into scary psycho. I had a hard time understanding how she could put up with his verbal abuse, but she doesn't seem to let anything stick to her.
Although Poppy initially appears to be an airheaded, lightweight individual, her depth and true compassion shine through. In one tense scene, she goes down a dark, scary alley at night and connects to a lonely, mentally ill homeless man. My radar was saying "ARE YOU CRAZY??? YOU COULD GET MOBBED, RAPED, OR KILLED!!" during the entire scene. But Poppy treats this man as a real human.
She also becomes aware of a potentially abusive situation with one of her students and approaches the student with grace and understanding.
Through all of these experiences, Poppy struggles with the need to protect herself and draw some boundaries, while trying not to extinguish her light.
The movie starts slowly--I found the first scene (a drunken party) difficult to follow--but once I settled in, I really appreciated this movie.
Mike found Poppy's character to be a bit too difficult to take. She seemed "too good" to him. Amazon reviewers who gave this film a bad rating either (1) found Poppy to be annoying or (2) couldn't understand the working class accents. (Turn on the subtitles, people!!)
Mike Leigh's style is to let the actors improvise much of the content, and at times this results in what seems to be a meandering plot (this is probably why I struggled with the first scene).
Clearly, this is a movie that causes divided reactions. If you are not easily annoyed by overly cheerful personalities, give it a try.