Saturday, January 3, 2009

HAPPY GO LUCKY (Mike Leigh, 2008, UK) Poppy is an infectious confection, a Pollyanna who lives by the maxim: “When you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will”. Mike Leigh’s film is an intensely saccharin character study that boasts a sweet candy veneer obscuring (but not obliterating) the unpleasant bitterness of reality. Though Poppy is a seemingly naïve and upbeat woman almost to the point of annoyance, she is not blinded by optimism; her life is not a vapid superficial existence devoid of calories. The story balances suffering and loneliness, the long dark night of the soul, with her desire to remain insouciant, an internal struggle ripe with pathos. Poppy is spiritually centered, a self-sufficient woman who knows her emotional boundaries, who feels the touch of the void upon the lives of others…and cares. Her interaction with a mentally unbalanced homeless man is dangerous, but she desires to understand him on his own terms, to speak to him like another human being: a powerfully revealing scene reflective of her sadness because she can’t save him. And that’s the sublime beauty of Poppy: she is not an enabler; she does not strangle the world with good intentions, love doesn’t conquer all, and forgiveness must be earned. Her nemesis is Scott, her driving instructor whose presence burns slowly towards meltdown: what begins as a harmless battle of personalities turns very dark, an obsessive lust that stalks the London streets and ends in a paroxysm of epithets. And Poppy knows that she is not his savior. To love someone, they must be set free; to forgive someone, they must be held accountable. Sally Hawkin’s exceptional performance is a vibrant splash of emotions across the silver screen, a passionate tour-de-force. Poppy’s life is open-ended; Mike Leigh doesn’t spoon-feed the audience a contrived resolution, only the lovely woman rowing her boat gently down the stream. (B)

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