Giddy Happy-Go-Lucky an ebullient smash
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Giddy Happy-Go-Lucky an ebullient smash
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

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Grammar school teacher Poppy (Sally Hawkins) has an irrepressible gift to look on the bright side. This skill is put to the test after her beloved bicycle is stolen one sunny afternoon, but instead of sulking and being depressed about it, she takes it as a golden opportunity to finally learn how to drive.

Her instructor, Scott (Eddie Marsan), is everything she isn't. Cantankerous, surly, a bit of a racist and an almost incorrigible cynic, he is black and disgusting oil to Poppy's clear and undeniably pure crystal blue water. But things don't progress in the way either of these two expects, heartbreak for one maybe a doorway to a happiness the other might not have been able to discover otherwise.

Anything a person has to say about Mike Leigh's (Vera Drake, Topsy-Turvy) working-class slice of life Happy-Go-Lucky starts and finishes with Hawkins. How much you love and adore this blissfully sincere and honestly emotional motion picture hangs on how much you end up relating and understanding her because if this woman rubs you the wrong way then - watch out! - a movie like this one is going to end up feeling like a living hell.

Which is too bad for you, because if that's so, you're going to end up missing one of the more unusually rapturous and pleasantly beguiling dramas released this year. Poppy maybe be an optimist but that doesn't mean she's clueless. She feels, sees and absorbs pain just like anyone else, but instead of turning to the negative she does her damnedest to strive for the positive - a silver lining to every dark cloud, no matter how awful or upsetting the coming shower might prove to be.

Considering I tend to be a little bit of a cynic myself, I must admit it took me a little while to let this one work its magic on me. For a little while, I almost wanted to throttle Poppy just as much as Scott does, her eternally perky demeanor and categorically sunny smile enough to make the hair on my head stand on end.

Yet in no time at all, both Leigh and Hawkins had worked their deliriously euphoric mojo, and I couldn't wait to see how this loving woman was going to deal with the problems and catastrophes tossed her way. While most might seem minor to you or to me, Poppy treats them with a compassion and grace that's beyond wonderful, doing her best to make everyone happy, even if she's secretly not the same herself.

But she isn't a saint, and neither the acclaimed Oscar-nominated writer/director nor the extremely talented character actress attempt to make her one. The woman has her flaws and her blind spots, and while her continual attempts to make those around her smile are laudably fantastic, sometimes the effect they end up having can't help but border on just a wee bit tragic.

I don't think this is up there with Leigh's best works like Life is Sweet, Secrets & Lies, Naked and Career Girls (my all-time favorite of the filmmaker's oeuvre), but even with that in mind it's still better, more alive and simply more enjoyable to experience than a good 90 percent of anything else out there right now. This is a movie that offers up plenty of food for thought, the whole thing anchored by a performance so stunning and triumphant that if Hawkins doesn't get an Academy Award nomination I might just fall over dead from the shock.

In short, Happy-Go-Lucky is an instant winner, a film so good I'm going to be telling people to see it from here into eternity. Just thinking about it can't help but make me smile, and as far as my own personal positivism is concerned, just like Poppy, I'm going to choose to assume the best and claim viewers are going to walk out of the theater singing this one's praise.

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