Feature

Happy-Go-Lucky

Poppy, an unshakably optimistic teacher played by Sally Hawkins, takes on the task of lifting the spirits of those around her.

Directed by Mike Leigh(R)

***

A chipper teacher spreads her sunny outlook on life.

Happy-Go-Lucky is “more than a movie, it’s a gift,” said Peter Travers in Rolling Stone. The lighter-than-air film is an unexpected turn for Mike Leigh, the British director behind such bleak titles as Vera Drake. But like most of his films, Happy-Go-Lucky is driven by a fascinating central character—in this case Poppy, an unshakably optimistic teacher played by Sally Hawkins. In Leigh’s typical improvisatory yet controlled ­manner, the plot presents her with a series of disturbing encounters meant to test Poppy’s sickeningly sunny worldview.

Too often, though, Leigh seems to pull his punches, said Dana Stevens in Slate.com. A heroine this angelic “needs to be tested against the possibility of real evil.” But every time Poppy faces “serious opposition”—be it a bully in her class or a nihilistic driving instructor—the “confrontation is defused before it has a chance to begin.”

Poppy knows wishful thinking alone won’t create happiness, said Stephanie Zacharek in Salon.com. But she merrily does the work of lifting spirits when no one else will. That unrelenting hope gives the character a delicate complexity and Happy-Go-Lucky its unassuming depth.

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