Monday, December 1, 2008

Film Review: HAPPY-GO-LUCKY (2008, Mike Leigh)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 118 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, Dick Pope, Jim Clark.
Tag-line: "The one movie this fall that will put a smile on your face."
Best one-liner(s): "It was in a Cadillac. Miami. Bunny-hopped down the beach. I was a bit pissed. It was hilarious."
Awards: Silver Bear at Berlin, Most Enjoyable Film at Norwegian Film Festival, Hollywood Breakthrough Award for Sally Hawkins at the Hollywood Film Festival, the Golden Arena at Pula International.

A lot of filmmakers could learn a thing or two from Mike Leigh. He frequently ignores one of the primary tenets of drama, which is "as the story progresses, the protagonist undergoes a fundamental change." But here, Sally Hawkins' Poppy is optimistic at the beginning, optimistic in the middle, and optimistic at the end. But it works. It's like the anti-NAKED, where David Thewlis' Johnny is an asshole for the entire duration, is about to change, but then- nope, still an asshole. And Leigh always makes it completely believable. Much of his success is due to his lengthy rehearsal process and reliance on improvisation, which imbues his ensemble casts with the spark of life and the intricate texture of well-developed characters. Leigh knows how to unfold a narrative with subtlety and grace, not unlike the progression of real life, and he does it without having to resort to stark Reygadas/Tsai/Tarr-style minimalism. So there! With HAPPY-GO-LUCKY, he also manages to make an optimistic , good-spirited film which doesn't fall into American-indie traps like manufactured quirkiness, gut-wrenching mawkishness, and smarmy Diablo Cody-esque dialogue. Though the American poster makes it seem as if it's ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW 2, this film is brilliant and real; Hawkins' masterful Poppy and indeed the film itself warm up to you like a real person might, slowly winning you over and allowing you to forget that you're merely watching a movie. Five stars, and Leigh's best since NAKED.

-Sean Gill

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