Happy Go Lucky
October 10, 2008
Movie of the Day for Wednesday, October 1, 2008
See other Movies of the Day
On the Big Board
||More Mike Leigh magic, again featuring the great Eddie Marsan
||More like Crappy Go Sucky. More annoying than charming.
||Sally Hawkins did well with a very difficult role, but her character's rapid fire dialogue is so annoying I had to watch half the movie on mute.
Director Mike Leigh is best known for making films that explore the socially realistic lives of the ordinary working class. In 1988 he made his first feature length film, after spending over ten years directing television, called, High Hopes. The movie centered on a dysfunctional, working class family with members having a variety of social and political views that often clash within the family and anyone else who came in contact with them. It was a subtle yet funny story of a struggling English family during the Thatcher Years.
Leigh’s directing style is considered supremely open to artistic freedom as he often has only a vague idea of characterization and plot before bringing the cast together. Once assembled, they begin months of improvisation, which begins to fully form both the plot and characters. His critics consider this lazy and undisciplined while those who have worked with him in the past praise his process.
Another well known film directed by Leigh was 1993’s Naked, which was a darker piece centering on a young British man who rapes a woman and then flees to his ex-girlfriend’s apartment in London. In this film, the character is a promising yet troubled and bitter man. He wanders the city's slums, expressing his nihilistic views on a variety of subjects in long winded prose. While lurking within this environment he encounters a variety of equally unsavory characters.
He is perhaps best known for Topsy-Turvy, which recounts the creation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. The film details the artistic struggle between the creative forces behind The Mikado as well explores the lives of Victorian-era theater life. It ended up winning two Academy Awards (Best Costume Design and Best Make-Up) and was nominated for Best Art Direction and Best Original Screenplay.
Vera Drake, Leigh’s 2004 offering, depicts the seemingly ordinary life of a 1950s quiet, middle-aged woman, devoted endlessly to her children, husband, her elderly mother and sick neighbor - and who also happens to be a back alley abortionist. In this film, as is the case with many of his other works, Leigh explores the interactions between different social classes. It is considered the most stark and brutal film of his career that deals with an individual’s good intentions most painfully punished by the world and the people who suffer within it.
It is then a surprise to most who know of his work that Mike Leigh directed his newest film, Happy-Go-Lucky. In this film, the central character is Poppy, a vibrant, terminally optimistic, vivacious primary school teacher. She’s single, 30-years-old and seemingly unconcerned about anything of substance. Her relentless optimism is tested in her polar opposite, represented by Scott, a driving instructor who is sour, relentlessly angry and unremittingly sad. Poppy, however sounding very much like the character of Betty of the world syndicated Ugly Betty, explores the world with a childlike sense of adventure and takes whatever challenge is presented with a bright smile and boundless enthusiasm.
It was reviewed as a softening of Leigh’s previous work and the most light and optimistic, yet it still retained many of his familiar themes of an individual struggling to maintain their optimism while being buffeted by relentless, near oppressive cynicism. The themes are easily traced to his upbringing, which occurred in Salford (near Manchester) in North West England which at the time was overwhelmingly working class.
Already released in the United Kingdom in April, and then subsequently in other European countries, Happy-Go-Lucky is set to be released in limited capacity in the North America. (D. James Ruccio)