January 4, 2009 -- Movie characters who appear to be happy are generally also idiots (the “Dumb and Dumber” types) or psychopaths (like The Joker character in Batman). The most common type of main character is a self-indulgent, somewhat unhappy twit (as in “American Beauty”). It is very rare to see a main character in a movie who is not only happy, but is also intelligent, generous, compassionate, loving and gentle. Happily, “Happy-Go-Lucky” has as its main character a happy person who embodies all these wonderful qualities. She is Poppy (played by Sally Hawkins of “The Painted Veil”). It is the best performance of 2008 by a lead actress in any film. She is a single British school teacher who lives in a small flat with a fellow teacher. She likes to drink and party, but she is serious about her job. She enlists the aid of a social worker to get to the bottom of the emotional problems of an abusive student.
When somebody steals her bicycle, she doesn't go into a funk, she shrugs it off, saying that it was time that she learned how to drive anyway. She begins taking driving lessons from an unhappy, uptight driving instructor, Scott (Eddie Marsan of “The Illusionist”). These two characters have incompatible personalities. Poppy flits through life like a butterfly, while Scott trudges through it like a constipated badger, angry at the world, seething at innumerable imagined conspiracies. Poppy tries to help Scott, but he resists. Eventually the two have a serious fight. Poppy may be a butterfly, but she won't back down from a confrontation if she feels she's right. I thought that Scott's character went overboard on the anger. I think the point about angry people could have been made with a little more subtlety. Happy people can be annoying as well. Poppy's sister insists that Poppy must be unhappy inside because she doesn't take life seriously enough. It turns out that Poppy's sister is the unhappy one, and Poppy does take her life seriously, she just has a lot fun along the way.
The movie explores the idea of happiness and how it comes from within, not from without. It is not necessarily a matter of wealth or circumstances or physical attributes. Happiness comes from an outlook on life, a stance towards life, a willingness to change the things we can change and a willingness to accept the things we can't change. Poppy's happiness comes from within. She acknowledges to her sister that she is lucky to be happy. Her sister doesn't understand Poppy, but she could learn a lot from her. We all could. This film rates a B.
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