Happy-Go-Lucky, from writer-director Mike Leigh, unfolds in the British director's signature improvisational style, whereby the script is whittled down into naturalistic shape via several weeks of intensive rehearsal, and collaboration between the actors and filmmaker. For some of Leigh's movies that works well (Secrets and Lies), for others (Topsy-Turvy) not so much. Happy-Go-Lucky, thankfully, is much more a case of the former. An effervescent comedy that finds delightful friction in its indulgence of polar opposite personalities, the movie serves as a star-making vehicle for Sally Hawkins, who earned a Best Actress Golden Globe Award for her joyful star turn as Poppy, a peppy, irrepressibly free-spirited teacher with an infectious laugh and an unshakably positive outlook on life.
Leigh's Oscar-nominated screenplay centers around London school teacher Poppy, who approaches every day with an optimism and bubbly, rib-nudging joy that is absolutely unshakable... and also can be a bit annoying. When the bicycle she commutes to work on is stolen, Poppy simply signs up for driving lessons. Her squat, East End-bred teacher, Scott (Eddie Marsan), is a fuming, uptight cynic whose swallowed anger and simmering exasperation comes to a boil in a series of clench-jawed tutorials and hilariously inappropriate episodes of road rage. They are a terrible match, in every sense of the word, and the divide only deepens when Scott comes to bitterly regard a potential suitor in Poppy's life. Is solemness a requisite for emotional maturation, a necessary component of functional adulthood? Poppy's disdainful, pregnant sister seems to think so, but neither she, Scott, a fiery flamenco instructor nor a classroom bully can seemingly change this happy-go-lucky gal’s glass-half-full worldview.
While Poppy perhaps skirts the edge of annoyance as a character that we would want a part of our everyday lives in the real world, she's also entirely recognizable, and real — her behavior stems and flows from rooted emotions, and makes sense scene to scene. In that regard, it doesn't matter whether one really "likes" Poppy, only that they recognize in her struggles the very personal and proactive application of joy as a weapon — something to keep the weight of negative emotions at bay — as well as something that keeps her in a state of arrested development. As counterbalance, Marsan gives good, sputtering rage. And, thankfully, Leigh doesn't push down hard on the life-affirming stuff. Joy may not be able to be contrived, but at the same time it's true that mood influences surroundings, and Happy-Go-Lucky winningly showcases both maxims.
Housed on a single disc in a regular plastic Amaray case, Happy-Go-Lucky is presented in 2:35:1 widescreen with an English language Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track. The DVD's bonus features are anchored by a feature-length audio commentary track from Leigh, who is amiable and chatty, but not a prisoner to over-explanation. The vast majority of his thoughts are confined to the world of the film rather than its production, but Leigh also isn't afraid to take a knee and let some silence speak for him, or simply pose questions as to possible different meanings/motivations of what's unfolding on screen. Those who know and appreciate the filmmaker's work will especially find reward in this track.
Running roughly 30 minutes, "Happy in Character" charts the making of the movie in more explicitly anecdotal, nuts-and-bolts fashion, with Leigh and the cast discussing the characters and story, and creation and winnowing process of the film; Leigh is his usual hyper-articulate self, and Hawkins especially comes off as a charmer here. There's also a shorter, behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the film’s “studio on wheels,” since so many of Happy-Go-Lucky's crucial scenes take place in a car, and in actual London traffic. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here; for an interview with Leigh, meanwhile, click here. B+ (Movie) B+ (Disc)