Opening 3 Jul 2008
Sally Hawkins received the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 2008 Berlinale for her portrait of Poppy in Mike Leigh’s comedy/drama. Poppy is the happy-go-lucky woman who rides her bicycle through London, cheerfully waving to people on the street. Her short skirt, her brightly coloured stockings, her high-healed boots, coupled with her indestructible cheerfulness, might be a bit overwhelming at first. But there is more to her than the constant chatter and jokes. She is a very responsible primary school teacher, fully committed to her pupils’ well-being. Life is not always laughter for her, having to deal with her moody and uptight sister, confronting bullying kids at school or a grumpy racist driving instructor. In an encounter with a bewildered homeless man in a dark corner of town, Poppy has to use all her psychological skills not to agitate him. Her down-to-earth flatmate Zoe (Alexis Zegerman) gives an excellent counter balance to Poppy’s endless enthusiasm. They have lived together for ten years and share their problems as well as good times. Poppy is happy as a single woman but is open to dating, especially when Tim (Samuel Roukin), a social worker, appears at her school.
One of the comical highlights is the hilariously funny performance of Karina Fernandez as a flamenco teacher demonstrating for a dancing class. Another highlight is the excellent performance of Eddie Marsan as driving instructor Scott, ranting on about “the devil’s system” whilst insisting on his weird ideas of how to teach driving. His character may strike as being a bit too eccentric, too much of a cliché, but the confrontations between him and Poppy are priceless. He is the parody of a driving instructor (with serious undertones). The situation is funny as well as outrageous – and in the end seems realistic enough. There is not very much of a plot; it is rather like looking at contemporary life in a big city. Watching Poppy making the most of her life, always looking at the bright side, is inspiring and true to her line that “Life can be hard at times, but that is part of it.”
This time Mike Leigh surprised his audience by presenting a light-hearted comedy at the Berlinale after previously producing a series of “depressing” movies. When asked what prompted him, his simple reply was: “At the beginning of the 21st century, when we are in a world that’s heading toward disaster, it’s important to reject the growing fashion to be miserable, the growing fashion to be pessimistic and gloomy because the world is in a bad way. Everywhere there are people on the ground getting on with it and being positive.” Such a character is Poppy in his latest film Happy-Go-Lucky. She is a positive person, but not shallow. (Birgit Schrumpf)