Director Mike Leigh’s latest award-winning film starts out in such a sunny, sweet state that it set my teeth on edge. 30-year old Poppy, played by the effervescent Sally Hawkins, rides her bicycle happily through North London (reminded me of Alfie) and even when the bike is stolen, she skips along, chipper as ever.
Poppy is a primary school teacher who shares a flat with a friend; they hang out with other friends and they don’t seem to be in a hurry to go anywhere anytime soon.
But Poppy is on the move; she signs up for driving lessons. Her teacher, Scott, played with a brilliant madness by Eddie Marsan, is grumpy and treats her like she is a 12-year old – because she acts like one.
But then, as if the sun goes down a bit, she walks home the long way one night, and meets a homeless man. There is more to Poppy than it seems. She cares about other people and she knows how to listen, even when no one speaks.
Poppy is a very good person and she has ample opportunity to show this, especially when Scott loses it (in a couple of magnificent scenes; the epitome of a road rager) and when a child at school needs help.
I was very moved by Happy-go-Lucky, a lovely end-of-the year surprise. I got the sense that the dialogue was unscripted (as with Leigh’s Secrets and Lies), and it worked because it drew me in to the ordinariness of Poppy’s life. Unlike Alfie, she didn’t blythly use people and toss them aside. Instead she is kind, intelligent, and caring, even when people don’t appreciate her. The good thing is, many do. HGL has a lot of heart.
This is a small film, it takes place in a small section of London, and is all the better for it. Nominated for a Golden Globe, Sally Hawkins won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival in ’08.
If you like to use films in your teaching or ministry, HGL works on many levels. Some of the themes are human relations, anger management; boundaries between people; reconciliation; communication; and considering what goodness looks like in daily life.
The main difference between Alfie (both versions) is that Alfie went through people trying to find who he was. Poppy knows who she is. She is a person who chooses happiness by refusing sadness and selfishness.
Poppy tries to cheer up her driving teacher….
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