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Happy-Go-Lucky DVD Review

Happy-Go-Lucky movie poster Happy-Go-Lucky

US Theatrical Release: October 10, 2008 / Running Time: 118 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Mike Leigh

Cast: Sally Hawkins (Pauline "Poppy" Cross), Eddie Marsan (Scott), Alexis Zegerman (Zoe), Sylvestra Le Touzel (Heather), Stanley Townsend (Tramp), Kate O'Flynn (Suzy), Caroline Martin (Helen), Oliver Maltman (Jamie), Sarah Niles (Tash), Samuel Roukin (Tim), Katrina Fernandez (Flamenco Teacher), Nonso Anozie (Ezra), Sinιad Matthews (Alice), Andrea Riseborough (Dawn)

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"Happy-go-lucky" is one way to describe the protagonist of Mike Leigh's new film of the same name. In addition to her carefree attitude, primary schoolteacher Poppy Cross (Sally Hawkins) might be noticed for her quick wit and colorful fashion choices. The thirty-year-old Londoner hasn't exactly grown up or settled down; she's single, living with a friend, and carrying on the way she might have a dozen years earlier but with perhaps less responsibility.

When her reliable bike is stolen, Poppy decides it's time to sign up for driving lessons. She begins behind-the-wheel training with Scott (Eddie Marsan), a testy instructor whose serious nature instantly and constantly clashes with her jocular ways.

Standing in front of a colorful world map, elementary school teacher Poppy Cross (Sally Hawkins) looks pleased by her student's answer. "Enraha!" is repeatedly exclaimed by driving instructor Scott (Eddie Marsan), as a way to remind Poppy to check her rearview mirror.

As far as a paraphrasable plot goes, that's about all Happy-Go-Lucky gives us. No point is made to paint either Poppy or her life as being extraordinary. Such a design is extremely rare in cinema storytelling, and it instantly distinguishes this comedy as a relaxed, human character study. If you find the movie excessively simple and uneventful, you may not only have missed the point but also some incisive aspects of Poppy's world which hold truth and meaning for those visiting it.

The film's episodic structure takes us through the beats of Poppy's life. We get a taste of a boisterous nightclub, and later see the recovering girlfriends being silly.
We watch as Poppy chats up a babbling derelict at far greater length than most people would. We spend some time in a flamenco dance class she attends with a friendly colleague. We tag along on a trip to the home of her married, pregnant younger sister. We observe how she responds to a bully among her students and later gets a love interest out of the social worker called in.

Do these threads connect, support one another, or add up to something grand? No, not really, and kind of. Your mileage will vary as to how much relevance and value you can uncover in these casual proceedings. But while some will complain that little meets the eye over the two hour running time, I can't bring myself to make such charges. Happy-Go-Lucky is always entertaining. It achieves this with nothing more than housing a spirited, upbeat personality and considering the issues, most of which are identifiable if not outright palpable, in her life.

Poppy, her younger sister Suzy (Kate O'Flynn), and roommate Zoe (Alexis Zegerman) share a relaxed moment on the bed. Poppy gets a love interest in Tim the dapper social worker (Samuel Roukin).

In theaters, Happy-Go-Lucky performed about on par with writer-director Leigh's previous creation, the 2004 period drama Vera Drake. That is to say it barely blipped on US radars last fall, but has narrowly eclipsed eight figures from exhibitions elsewhere around the globe. It is characteristic for a film by Mike Leigh (Naked, Secrets & Lies, Topsy-Turvy) to make more of an impact on critics than moviegoers.

The one hope for this to surpass arthouse expectations lied in the award season. To that end, Happy-Go-Lucky racked up a fair amount of honors, most for Sally Hawkins' spunky lead performance. The most prominent venue recognizing the film was the Golden Globes. For that show, the Hollywood Foreign Press bestowed nominations for Best Motion Picture and Best Actress, both within the historically less cutthroat Musical or Comedy class. Though Ms. Hawkins won the latter statue, beating out Meryl Streep and Emma Thompson, Happy-Go-Lucky only played on the big screen for another eleven days, remaining in just 50 theaters. The studio ceased tracking on the day the Academy Award nominations were announced, with only a Best Original Screenplay nod earned.

Miramax sends Happy-Go-Lucky to stores on DVD (and only DVD) next Tuesday.

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2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: March 10, 2009
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Black Keepcase


Happy-Go-Lucky looks terrific in this vibrant 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. There isn't a great deal going on in the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, but it clearly and competently delivers all dialogue and Gary Yershon's prominent score.

Director of photography Dick Pope looks over the fully loaded car that will film the driving lessons (a little more conspicuously than "Taxicab Confessions") on actual London roads. Writer-director Mike Leigh cuts an Aristotelian presence while discussing his film in "Happy-In-Character." Poppy's flamenco dancing and the gang's mad little yellow car are spotted in the animated main menu.


Extras begin with an audio commentary by Mike Leigh. He approaches the format differently than most filmmakers,
acting more as a storyteller who finds and shares meaning in his scenes and characters. It renders this less boring and more thoughtful than most solo tracks, although Leigh doesn't have enough insight to sustain the full two hours of listening. Among the topics he tackles: his decision to shoot in (wide) widescreen for the first time, his unusual creative process (in which a script is born out of character development and improvised cast rehearsals), comparisons that people have made to other films and characters, and the meaning of some featured English slang and euphemisms.

The short featurette "Behind the Wheel of Happy-Go-Lucky" (4:23) covers the movie's driving scenes, paying attention to their dramatic value and then showing us how they were filmed (with a car full of cameras, sound equipment, and heavy duty batteries actually driving around London).

"Happy-In-Character" (27:14) gives us a more extensive analysis of the film with Leigh and his leading cast members discussing their characters and their filmmaking processes. It's more elevated and less promotional than your typical DVD making-of piece, but I can't say it's more interesting.

The disc loads with an anti-smoking ad, a Miramax Films promo, and a trailer for Doubt. The Sneak Peeks menu adds previews for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, "Desperate Housewives": Season 4, and "Samantha Who": Season 1.

The main menu takes us on an animated tour of sights from the film with a hodgepodge of character cutouts and graphics. The only in-case insert is a booklet advertising Blu-ray, the format Disney has not deemed Happy-Go-Lucky worth releasing on.

Personalities clash from the start of Poppy's (Sally Hawkins) driving lessons with Scott (Eddie Marsan). While falling off a chair, Poppy does something she does a lot in "Happy-Go-Lucky": laugh.


Happy-Go-Lucky lets us spend time
with an optimistic, good-natured, and fairly ordinary English woman. It's not really any more complicated than that, but Sally Hawkins brings to life such a fun character that the experience is quite a pleasant one. This is not your run-of-the-mill comedy nor is it a typical Mike Leigh film. As such, you may have to summon some interest for it, but that interest is likely to be rewarded when you check out this keen movie.

Miramax's DVD doesn't go above and beyond the call of duty and some may lament that it holds no unused Poppy footage. Still, it provides a perfectly serviceable presentation and a few thoughtful extras.

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Reviewed March 5, 2009.

Text copyright 2009 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2008 Miramax Films, Summit Entertainment, Ingenious Film Partners, Film4, UK Film Council, Thin Man Films,
and 2009 Buena Vista Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.