by Matt Brunson
DIRECTED BY Mike Leigh
STARS Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan
Any movie character who bears even the slightest resemblance to Robin Williams' insufferable Patch Adams deserves no less a fate than being simultaneously electrocuted and beheaded at film's end, yet here's writer-director Mike Leigh bucking the odds by bringing us such a person yet somehow keeping our collective wrath in check.
Poppy (played by Sally Hawkins) is the eternal Pollyanna, a 30-year-old schoolteacher so chipper that, upon discovering her bike has been stolen, merely shrugs and states, "I didn't have a chance to say my goodbyes." To her friends, she evokes that familiar line from the theme song to The Mary Tyler Moore Show ("Who can turn the world on with her smile?"); to strangers, she's a baffling figure indeed, perhaps even psychotic.
As in many Leigh pictures, including his two best ones (Secrets & Lies and Topsy-Turvy), narrative structure isn't nearly as important as character examination, and here that's a risky proposition, considering that spending so much time in the presence of such a live wire can lead to viewer irritation and exhaustion as much as it can evolve into acceptance and appreciation. But thanks to Leigh's lack of pretense and Hawkins' perfectly modulated performance, Happy-Go-Lucky eventually compels rather than repels, with some poignant encounters (chiefly between Poppy and her grouchy driving instructor, nicely played by Eddie Marsan) adding heft to what otherwise could have been dismissed out of hand as an airy confection.