Written and directed by Mike Leigh
Screening at from 18th April
As someone who can't stand anything more frivolous than the news or Grumpy
Old whoever it is this week, perhaps I'm not the best person to write
about such a chirpy character as Poppy (Sally Hawkins). But then, maybe
that makes me perfect to do it. You see, it isn't about whether the glass
is half full or half empty; it's about filling the damned drink receptacle.
And then emptying it.
The woman in question is a primary school teacher, and despite the rigours
of the national curriculum, SATs and league tables, takes a great joy
in her work (perhaps because none of those things seem to exist in the
Happy-Go-Lucky universe). Her personal life is similarly carefree; she
has a very close friendship with her flat-mate Zoe (Alexis Zegerman),
and her sister is pregnant with her first child. When her bike gets stolen,
she doesn't get upset, she merely regrets - for a fleeting moment - not
getting to "say goodbye", and arranges some driving lessons.
It is this which puts her in contact with straitlaced instructor Scott
(Eddie Marzan), whose worldview couldn't be more different to that of
his breezy protegee. Lonely, angry and paranoid, he clutches at religion
like a drowning person grasping the air, and uses obscure demonical references
as memory aids. But even this doesn't particularly trouble Poppy, she
makes a joke out of his "dark" mutterings, and tells him to
"Cheer up, it might never happen". Clearly, for Scott, it already
Entrenched, systematic problems exist in our society - like the homelessness
Poppy briefly encounters - which have causes and effects. Isolated individuals,
whether they smile or frown, joke or moan, cannot change these structures.
In the film's final scene, Poppy tells Zoe that people "make their
own luck". While of course it is true that hard work is sometimes
rewarded, this brand of kooky self-help individualism could never be a
solution for most people, or even for anyone in the long term, once they
get mugged by reality. Does Leigh seriously mean to tell us the homeless
man - and by extension all homeless people - is/are just lazy? Or too
down in the mouth?
I usually don't have this trouble with Mike Leigh stuff. Normally his
films - falling within that genre dubbed 'social realism' - have at least
attempted to portray the struggles of working class life. So yes, that
means a lot of sadness and messed-up people, but you can only begin to
overcome problems if you acknowledge their existence. His 1950s backstreet
abortionist Vera Drake (2004) faced many obstacles, and did her best for
people, but she sometimes cried. There's nothing wrong with that, but
there's something terribly wrong with her 2008 equivalent: she's too happy-go-lucky.
Comment left by Joe on 7th May, 2008 at 23:30
Couldn't disagree more; this film isn't a profound analysis of the ills affecting society but merely a tale (fiction is the key word here) that happens to have a very happy character at its centre.
Without being too cheesy or naive, the film oozes freedom, vitality and sense of humour, something very rare in today's (good) cinema.
For this, Leigh should be cheeried rather than condemned.
If I wanted to be lectured on the socio-political issue of the day, I'd watch a Ken Loach film.
Let's enjoy art for art's sake!