Nobody does color like the Brits (making up for the grayness of the skies, eh?). Just look at their clothes, their walls, their rose bushes, their glam rockers, their buses, their phone booths, their designers… And noone uses all that color to better effect than sweet Poppy in Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky–her clashing outfits will make your eyes pop.
To make the reds even redder and the yellows ever more sunny in this sunny film, the director uses a new Fuji stock that brings out primary colors in all their vibrancy so that we get an overall impression as frothy and yummy as a Wayne Thiebaud paintings of San Francisco cakes. That’s for appearance.
Content-wise, things are sometimes rougher than their smooth surface implies. The above-mentioned Poppy is unforgettably played by Sally Hawkins who received a richly-deserved Silver Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival last February. Now is Poppy a giggly fool, an idealist who sees the world much as it is not, or a determined optimist who loves life no matter what, and people no matter who, who bounces off problems and bravely marches on in her parade no matter how often the rain comes pouring?
Trust me, when the lights come on after this lovely film, the first questions you’ll ask yourself is a) can such a person exist? and b) have you personally ever met anyone like her? Sally Hawkins says in an interview that she asked herself exactly that as she played Poppy.
Mike Leigh draws this portrait of a woman unfazed by ups and downs, by solitude, by her abominable driving instructor, by kids beaten up by mean stepdads, by a drunk homeless man who, in her all-encompassing empathy, she really gets (I know, she nods—and means it—when he endlessly stutters, he is… he is… he is…) as carefully as he did those of the much more somber Vera Drake or Naked.
He shrugs off critics who call Happy-Go-Lucky his first truly funny film. His comment to that is that comic relief can appear at the oddest and gloomiest moments in his films and that Happy-Go-Lucky is far from being always cheerful. Just like life, mate. Sometimes funny, sometimes not. If you meet a Poppy to help tide you over when things aren’t too rosy, you’re in luck. If not, go see the film.