I’ve never heard of a directing style quite like Mike Leigh’s. He gets an idea, rounds up a group of actors and dumps them in a room for weeks upon weeks of improvisation. Soon, a script is formed from the actors working through a theme and hashing out all the winded deatails.
Happy-Go-Lucky is easily Leigh’s most optimistic work to date. The film does not have a single shread of plot, but rather a story. We follow the characters around for a certain period of time, getting to know them through conversations, until Leigh feels it’s appropriate to end. It is great, whimsical stuff. Sally Hawkins stars as Poppy, an almost annoyingly optimistic grade-school teacher who loves life and everyone in it. She gets along great with her flat mate, her students, fellow teachers, younger sister and so on.
If the film has a theme, it is the impact of teachers. Poppy is a teacher, her flat mate is a teacher, her pregnant sister is a teacher, she is taught dancing lessons as well as driving lessons and so on. Her driving instructor, Scott, played with heated ferociousness by Eddie Marsan, is a great character. He’s something like a rouge fascist, yelling at Poppy for every little thing, yet scared shitless when two black boys ride by on bicycles.
Watching Happy-Go-Lucky I was reminded of Amelia. Both films don’t really have a plot, and they are essentially about the inherent goodness that people can have. Happy-Go-Lucky isn’t all laughs and giggles, it has a few very serious scenes that are handled extremely well. Watch Hawkins, in one of the year’s best performances, as she sits with a social worker, trying to communicate with one of her students. She interjects at all the right times, saying all the right things. It is a beautiful performance, placed gently in a wondrous film. A