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When the world around you is simply terrible to deal with there is nothing like a comedy to lift your spirits. Movies have had a long history of providing the escape and relief from the woes of the world practically from their beginnings. In the Great Depression Charlie Chaplin delighted millions with his loveable "Little Tramp’ character. In the sixties and seventies the country was in the midst of the Vietnam war that was dividing the nation. This is also the time when master comedian Mel Brooks presented his funniest works. At the current time we are in dire times. The economy is in the toilet, we are once again in an unpopular war and there seems to be fat more problems than possible solutions. What is needed is a comedy that can help you forget the world for a couple of hours and perhaps let you carry that feeling with you after the film is over. Thankfully, a film of this sort is around and available on DVD; ‘Happy-Go-Lucky’. Now a lot of movies tout the phrase ‘the feel good movie of the year’ but few come anywhere near living up to that claim. This movie does so with great resolve and energy. It is just the kind of movie that will make you laugh despite your current mood. Film can inform, thrill, excite and change the mood of the audience in a myriad of ways. This is an example of how pure joy can be transferred from the screen to those watching. There are two basic ways to present a comedy; characters or situations. In the situational comedy regular people are humorous due to the places and circumstances that surround them. While this is an honorable way to go the other method is more difficult to master. In the character driven comedy the cast and crew have to bring the personality of the characters across. They have to be fully formed human beings that the audience can readily identify with and understand. In this type of film the humor goes much deeper than a pratfall or funny face. The comedy originates in a shared human experience. We laugh not because we are glad that the things on the screen are not happening to us; we laugh because we can relate to the people. This is the very thing that makes this movie wonderful to experience. The protagonist is such a committed optimist that her mood and cheerful outlook on life is infectious. It reaches out to the audience pushing away the troubles and cares of the day. A film like this would have a difficult time finding a major studio to back it. There are no explosions, bloodshed or action to make it a blockbuster. Perhaps this is one reason so many of the recent great films have come out of the world of independent film. Like many movies of this sort it made its way through the Indy film festival circuit before getting picked up for distribution. The Miramax branch of the wonderful world of Disney saw the unbridled potential of this film and has brought it out on DVD.

The film was written and directed by one of the up coming talents in the Indy market; Mike Leigh. He is best known for his films of a more serious nature such as ‘Vera Drake’ although he did write and direct the cult classic ‘Topsy-Turvy’. He was nominated for an Academy Award this year. For this film Leigh has channeled every positive attitude possible for a person who is still psychologically sane and placed them in his main character Pauline ‘Poppy’ Cross. She goes beyond seeing the glass half full; Poppy views every container as brimming with happiness and potential. It is a tricky thing to write a character such as this. The danger is going so far over the top that she becomes a cartoon. Leigh never gets anywhere near this line. Poppy is a happy person but she retains her humanity. There are scenes that demonstrate that Poppy is a fully formed and highly functional person. Part of her optimistic slant on life makes her open and empathic towards others. She is the type of person that can comfort you when things seem the bleakest. It also takes a special kind of actress to sell this role. She has to be able to smile throughout the film without coming across as goofy or in need of medical supervision. Fortunately this film had the best possible choice for the role; Sally Hawkins. Ms Hawkins has the deep rooted talent to ease into Poppy with great ease. She puts on the persona like putting on a favorite, well worn pair of jeans. Hawkins makes Poppy into someone that we would love to have in our lives.

The only thing that rivals Leigh in his scriptwriting ability here is his style and flair as the movie’s director. It would be incredibly easy for a movie like this to good badly off track. Leigh is always grounded as he directs this film. It may be unusual to meet a character like Poppy but Leigh never looses sight of her humanity. She has the full range of emotions but has made the conscious choice not to let the negative ones dominate and control her life. When something bad happens to her she knows it is awful but tries to put a positive spin on things by finding a silver lining to every cloud. Leigh doesn’t make it easy for Poppy to be this way. Part of the story is the reveal as to why she is like this; why she has chosen optimism over the normal mood swings that afflict most of us. This adds meaning and substance to the film that you might not expect.

Poppy is an elementary school teacher. She is great with the kids and they love her. Poppy shares her London flat with her best friend Zoe (Alexis Zegerman) and the two somehow manage to get through life together. While this is a character driven story it is told by displaying how Poppy navigates through the situations that confront her. For example there is a bookstore that Poppy loves to go owned by a dour man (Elliot Cowan). No matter how he tries to annoy or ignore her Poppy keeps coming back cheerful as even. Normally she zips through town on her treasured bike. When it is stolen Poppy laments that she never got a chance to say goodbye. For Poppy this is the proverbial door closing and a window opening. She takes it as a chance to do something that most thirty year olds already know; she wants to learn to drive. Naturally the driving school instructor, Scott (Eddie Marsan) is the polar opposite of Poppy. He is miserable; always on the verge of a megaton explosion of anger. Showing Poppy’s deeper side occurs when she intervenes in a boy who is bullying the other kids. It turns out that his mother’s boyfriend is physically abusing the boy. Even this has a happy side effect since it allows Poopy to meet the social worker for the boy, Tim (Samuel Roukin) who begins a relationship with Poppy.

If you enjoy kicking puppies or are wanted by the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit you will not like this movie. If there is a touch of humanity within then there is something in this film that will reach out and touch you. It doesn’t look like the economy is going to improve overnight and there will always be wars to deal with but when you need a lift of spirits watch this and rediscover the mirth in life.

Posted 02/28/09

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