Happy talk, and more, in uplifting British comedy
December 19, 2008
Poppy is a 30ish London schoolteacher with an indomitable cheerfulness. She smiles her way through unpleasant encounters; she perks up her friends with her nonstop smile, the affecting jerks of her head, her chatter. All this upbeat attitude is balanced by a genuine sensitivity to others: She listens well enough to help her 8-year-old students navigate their troubles; at home, she is a source of comfort and amusement to her roommate.That is a character description of Poppy, portrayed by an unforgettable Sally Hawkins in a breakthrough role. It is also, slightly less happily, the plot of Happy-Go-Lucky. British filmmaker Mike Leigh, known for far more somber films like Vera Drake (about an elderly abortionist) and Secrets & Lies (the title is a giveaway), focuses on Poppys personality nearly to the exclusion of story. We see Poppy partying with friends, imitating birds with her students, chatting over drinks. There is little sense of forward motion to any of this, and if youre expecting her exuberance to be tested by some life-changing circumstance no. She does get her bike stolen, but thats in the opening sequence, and Poppy shakes off the theft minutes into her walk home.Poppys primary antagonist is the bilious driving instructor Scott (Eddie Marsan), and their Saturday morning lessons/confrontations will have to suffice for a through-story. Even this interplay of light and dark plays out more like discrete episodes than a building narrative. But their final meeting is an enormous pay-off. Scotts bigotry and frustration burst into an epic fit of self-delusion, and Poppys sympathetic nature is fully revealed. Its a scene that should be studied in cinema classes surprising, funny, heartbreaking and human. And exceptionally well-acted. Hawkins is very likely to earn a nomination, at least, for an Oscar; she is already up for a Golden Globe. Marsan wont get such recognition, but he merits it.Happy-Go-Lucky shows Sunday, Dec. 21 at 5:30 p.m., opening Aspen Films Academy Screenings series.Other films showing this week in the Academy Screenings (all films in the series are at Harris Concert Hall):
Adapted from F. Scott Fitzgeralds romantic fantasy, Brad Pitt stars as a man who ages backward born as an 80-year-old, and making his way toward infancy. Cate Blanchett is the love of his life; director David Fincher makes a sharp turn away from such gory fare as Se7en and Fight Club. All three are up for Golden Globes; Fincher has already taken best director honors from the National Board of Review.
Swedens submission for the foreign language Oscar, Everlasting Moments tells of a young mother who uses a camera to capture the glories of a difficult life.
Awards front-runner Sean Penn portrays the real-life politician Harvey Milk, whose open homosexuality made him a lightning rod and target even in 70s San Francisco. Director Gus Van Sant returns to high-profile filmmaking; the supporting cast includes Emile Hirsch (whom Penn directed in Into the Wild), Josh Brolin and James Franco.
Sam Mendes, director of American Beauty, returns to suburban angst. This time the clock is turned back to the mid-50s, and Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, both up for Golden Globes, are the struggling couple.
What would a film series be without a new angle on the Holocaust? Here, Daniel Craig is one of three Polish Jews who establish a village in the woods as a refuge from the Nazis.The Academy Screenings series runs through Jan. 3. For a full program, go to http://email@example.com