Mike Leigh’s wonderful coming of age tale is enough to drive some people crazy.
When we first meet Poppy, she is all too cheerfully biking, grinning in an almost loony way at whatever pops into her vision. When she returns from an awkward visit to a bookstore, finding her beloved bicycle stolen, she good naturedly laments, “I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye”. At this point, I wondered if Poppy was a bit “off” or simply the most annoying character to hit the screen in years.
Lesson learned. By me and, by film’s end, Poppy, too. Thanks to Leigh’s signature delicate power, and a knockout performance from Sally Hawkins, Poppy blossoms into adulthood, her eyes and heart slowly opening to the seriousness of life around her. Without sacrificing her integral good nature, Poppy grows from immature flower child into a wise but undaunted woman.
The entire cast here is superb, especially Eddie Marsan, who, as the understandably furious driving instructor, is key in Poppy’s awakening. And Hawkins will surely be on the circuit at awards time. But it’s more than the performances that make Happy Go Lucky so memorable. It’s Leigh’s subtle and sweet understanding of life that makes this one one of the best films so far this year.