Vancouver International Film Festival
“Happy-Go-Lucky” played as part of the Cinema of Our Time Series at the 2008 Vancouver International Film Festival.
Most of the films I caught at the 2008 Vancouver Film Fest had political and social justice undertones; important, interesting, but ultimately really serious, and often just plain depressing stuff.
So to start off my Film Fest experience with the UK film “Happy-Go-Lucky” was startling, because it couldn’t have been more different than the others I would soon view.
The film’s director, Mike Leigh, is known for more nuanced, serious films, like 2004’s “Vera Drake”.
“Happy-Go-Lucky” centers on Poppy, a teacher in North London. The film is deceptively simple on the surface, and the title seems to fit it perfectly. Poppy is the kind of person that embodies the cliché of “seeing the glass as half full”. This makes the character a little difficult to swallow sometimes, but she is played wonderfully by actress Sally Hawkins, and we are absorbed into her world.
We follow Poppy as she teaches her Elementary School class, both irritates and delights co-workers with her optimism, argues with her family, and generally interacts with the world around her.
The plot is not exactly point-A-to-point-B plot but there’s a lot going on. If you prefer a more direct storyline that goes from one place to another, as we all sometimes do, then perhaps you should put this film off for another day.
In the culture we live in, the kind of optimism and world view that Poppy projects is most often looked at with suspicion, if not contempt. I, for one, was not immune to this, as I found myself thinking at time, “no way is she for real”, and “she must be hiding some terrible secret or something”. And then I realized that my reaction is precisely why this movie is brilliant.
Instead of just providing me with a couple of hours of distraction from my so-called “serious” film-viewing, “Happy-Go-Lucky” made me think about the very nature of emotion in films, and how a film doesn’t have to be mind-numbingly depressing to have a deep effect on you.
At worst, “Happy-Go-Lucky” will make you smile, and at best, it will make you smile and think at the same time. Those sound like pretty good odds to me.