I’m not going to go on at length about the latest Mike Leigh film because he is one of my favourite directors and the film falls a long way short of his best work.
Sally Hawkins as Poppy is a primary-school teacher who is relentlessly cheerful. No negative thoughts or attitudes inhabit this thirty-year-old woman. She finds something positive, even humorous in every situation she is faced with. That a joke is lame, and most of hers are, does not phase her in the slightest, she’s still going to come out with it.
Eddie Marsan as Scott, her driving instructor, is much more impressive and memorable. A deeply flawed character, Scott misreads all of Poppy’s signals and, ironically, is the one character in the film with whom most of us could empathise. You may remember him for the part of Reg in 2004’s Vera Drake.
Happy-Go-Lucky doesn’t work. It’s a comedy but it isn’t funny. It’s shallow, has little to say and is, ultimately, boring. But worse than this it isn’t tight. Leigh has made mistakes before but never has he produced a film that is swimming with extraneous material. There are two scenes in the film which should not be there at all. A scene towards the beginning of the film with Poppy in a bookshop trying to engage with an assistant who doesn’t want to talk; and a scene in the second half of the film where she appears to communicate with a madman somewhere in docklands in the middle of the night. Neither of these scenes have anything to do with the rest of the film. Why were they not cut, along with much of the bubbling and inconsequential chatter of the main character?
Mike Leigh is better than this. Explore or rediscover some of his earlier work, like Vera Drake (2004), Secrets & Lies (1996), Naked (1993), or Life Is Sweet (19990).