Happy Go Lucky (MUN Cinema, February 26 at Avalon Mall Empire Studio 12)
If there’s one modern cliché that’s really gotten on my nerves as a movie-goer, it’s the Manic Pixie Girl.
What’s that? You don’t know what the Manic Pixie Girl is? Sure you do. Hell, it seems like the bulk of romantic comedies rely on them these days. Picture a stodgy, buttoned-down curmudgeon who is lured away from his cardboard cut-out lifestyle by a “free spirit,” a girl who “doesn’t play by the rules” who causes the menfolk to think. (“A girl standing on her head? How positively zany! My heart will grow two sizes this day!”) The male variation on this cliché is the Loveable Slacker, as seen in fare like Smart People, but that’s a different story.
A story is a terrible thing to waste, and it’s a real shame that writer-director Mike Leigh (Naked, Secrets & Lies) decided to make one the centerpiece of Happy Go Lucky.
While Leigh hasn’t made a tired romantic comedy here, the end result is remarkably tedious. The film follows a primary schoolteacher nicknamed “Poppy” (Sally Hawkins) as she drinks, hangs out with friends, goes to work and takes driving lessons. Happy Go Lucky never ceases to show us how happy and friendly Poppy is in contrast to the public at large—but precious little insight is given beyond that. A scene where a character suggests Poppy is an unhappy slacker at heart arrives very late in the film, is never developed, and there’s precious little variation on the character that results. Poppy tries to chat up the bookstore clerk, the Flamenco instructor, the driving instructor, the insert-character-here, and these hapless victims usually find her unbearably irritating. This isn’t surprising, since Poppy is the cinematic embodiment of that bore at parties who laughs loudest at their own stupid jokes. Poppy is The Office’s David Brent in a film without a punch line.
A number of critics have been raving about this navel-gazing affair, but it’s hard to see why. The only point of interest is the subplot involving Scott, a deranged driving instructor played by Eddie Marsan. He’s a paranoid, uptight, cynical and thoroughly awkward human being whose relationship with Poppy slowly develops into something messy and complicated. Unfortunately, there’s no payoff to their interactions, as the movie abruptly ends just as things get interesting.
I admit, there’s potential in a film about someone like Poppy, even though she is a Manic Pixie, but Leigh doesn’t seem interested in anything resembling story mechanics. Happy Go Lucky looks good, and the actors all hit their marks, but it’s just as empty as its two-dimensional lead.
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