Happy-Go-Lucky is brilliant in its simplicity.  It details a few weeks in the life of Poppy (Sally Hawkins), who is remarkable for the complete and utter joy she gets out of life.  And that’s the whole story.  The beauty of the film is that Poppy’s joie de vivre never really gets cartoonish (in, say, a Jim Carrey sort of way) or off-putting, and she’s never forced to deal with some horrible tragedy that shatters her worldview.  Instead, Poppy’s everlasting happiness is actually the source of her depth, creating a memorable character.

In this case, it is important to distinguish the character from the film.  Because while Hawkins’s effervescence dominates the movie, it is a mistake to let her define it.  And if Hawkins is like the bubbles in a glass of seltzer, the movie is that seltzer: refreshing, to be sure, but unlikely to be remembered after a day or so.  Maybe that’ll be the last extended metaphor for awhile.

The film’s genre may be best defined as “family-friendly, but not meant for kids”; it is hard to imagine any adult being offended by Happy-Go-Lucky.  It was bold to make a movie with virtually no conflict (save for perhaps two exceptions) and I think it is a testament to writer/director Mike Leigh and Sally Hawkins that the movie succeeds as well as it does.  That said, the movie is far from great.  The lack of conflict leads to lack of resolution, leaving the movie feeling somewhat incomplete.  While many comedies overcome a weakish plot by being consistently funny, Happy-Go-Lucky too often seems to get bogged down preparing to make some sort of bold statement it never gets around to making.  The scene by the train tracks, for example.  Or the subplot starting with Poppy’s student who likes to pick fights.  Perhaps most telling is that it is a struggle to remember which, exactly, were the funny parts, but I can distinctly remember the parts which seems slow or off-kilter.

I’d certainly recommend Happy-Go-Lucky, it is probably a good movie to see when trying to find something to pacify everyone in a group.  But there have been plenty of movies this year I more enjoyed.  I’ve seen a little buzz around an original screenplay nomination, and while I wouldn’t be upset, I don’t think the film is deserving, so I’d be a little disappointed.

I’m starting to see a little bit of support for Eddie Marsan getting a supporting actor nod.  He’s actually quite good in the movie, being the only one who gives Hawkins a run for her money.  His driving instructor was also pretty much the only character in the movie to exhibit any sort of range of emotions, which probably props up his chances some.  I liked him, but if his character were in a different movie, I don’t think he’d be getting as much notice.  Again, I’m not sure I’d start advocating an Oscar revolution if he gets a nomination, but I’d be very surprised if he’s one of my top five by the end of the year.

Finally, there’s Sally Hawkins.  Who, right now, is looking like she’ll get squeezed out of a relatively strong actress race.  It is kind of hard to compare her here, because her character is intentionally one note.  I have to give her credit, Hawkins remains funny throughout the entire film, without ever really veering over the top, and her timing is pretty fantastic.  She makes the film, and in the hands of some other actresses, I think the movie would have been much less enjoyable.  I haven’t seen enough of the contenders yet to make any sort of statement here, but I look forward to placing her in context.

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