Eddie Marsan and Sally Hawkins star in HAPPY-GO-LUCKY, directed by Mike Leigh for Momentum Pictures.

Happy-Go-Lucky (2008, Mike Leigh)

I’m not sure how I feel about Panavision Mike Leigh. Dick Pope’s cinematography–and the film’s overall color scheme too–is very vibrant. Happy-Go-Lucky is a peppy, bright, Panavision Mike Leigh film. It’s got a loud–good, but loud–score (from Gary Yershon); the score’s peppy too. There’s a very definite arc to the film, with a predictable ending. It’s improvised like the rest of Leigh’s films, but it’s going for a different effect–it’s a comedy. If Hugh Grant showed up in Happy-Go-Lucky, he wouldn’t be at all out of place. In fact, he might even be a good addition to it.

The film has a deceptively small dramatic vehicle–always happy schoolteacher and all around nice person Sally Hawkins has her bike stolen so she has to learn to drive, introducing her to misanthropic driving instructor Eddie Marsan. Will Marsan eventually fall under her–unintentional–spell? I spent most of the film hoping not, since the driving scenes would only add up to something–other than just being Hawkins in driving classes, not an epical framework for a narrative–if there’s a culminating scene with Marsan freaking out and screaming at her for being so happy.

So happy-go-lucky.

The film presents Hawkins as a little annoying in her constant jubilance, but she is a good person. There’s a scene–maybe in the middle–where it’s clear Hawkins is such a good person, she sometimes puts it before her personal safety. So raising the question of her motives for her behavior in the conclusion and subjecting the viewer to a traditional romantic comedy self-reflective montage… it’s wrong. Happy-Go-Lucky spends most of its time meandering, only to get real close to attaining something special at the end, then decides to be a romantic comedy instead.

It’s a Mike Leigh movie with an intentional comic set piece. Sure, Karina Fernandez’s flamenco teacher is hilarious–but it’s a fake moment in a Mike Leigh film. It’s a good, fake moment, exactly the type of thing a theater-full of romantic comedy goers would love to see. I really enjoyed it, but it’s the type of thing where the followup joke involves Hugh Grant learning to flamenco.

Hawkins is great, no question, as is Marsan. She makes the character work, usually during the quiet scenes. The supporting cast is all solid–Alexis Zegerman plays her roommate (there are a few comments about the pair having a romantic relationship, but it’s all in jest… the movie might have worked better if it hadn’t been), Samuel Roukin’s her romantic interest (they have a lovely romantic comedy conclusion).

The stuff Leigh drops–the unique material Happy-Go-Lucky initially tries to discuss (racism, abuse)–is almost forgotten by the end. The lengthy comedy material makes it all disappear, swept under the carpet during one of the funnier scenes perhaps.

But Leigh also introduces the idea Hawkins’s innocence, her demeanor, will eventually land her in hot water. He exploits the viewer’s concern for the character, the concern he’s created for just that reason–to add tension to a number of scenes. It’s a standard move, occasionally honest, occasionally not, always with good acting from Hawkins. But the move’s a middling one, not the kind of thing I expect from Mike Leigh, lovely Panavision composition or no lovely Panavision composition.

Oddly, Leigh’s a great Panavision composer. His shots are magnificent… like he spent more time on how the shots look than what goes on in them.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Mike Leigh; director of photography, Dick Pope; edited by Jim Clark; music by Gary Yershon; production designer, Mark Tildesley; produced by Simon Channing Williams; released by Momentum Pictures.

Starring Sally Hawkins (Poppy), Eddie Marsan (Scott), Alexis Zegerman (Zoe), Andrea Riseborough (Dawn), Sinéad Matthews (Alice), Kate O’Flynn (Suzy), Sarah Niles (Tash), Sylvestra le Touzel (Heather), Karina Fernandez (the flamenco teacher) and Stanley Townsend (Tramp).

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