“I never even got to say goodbye,” Poppy says cheerily after emerging from a bookstore whose clerk she teases for being obscenely glum, discovering her bicycle has been snatched. She doesn’t flinch, at least not in the way one expects, and neither do her friends when she whips out a pair of chicken cutlets from her bra after a night of dancing, casually announcing how she likes the feel of the raw meat against her breasts. This gangly brunette is bananas, and the music on the soundtrack is perfectly in sync with her kooky mode of social expression, so that she suggests Mary Pickford as well as Polly Jean Harvey. Through lithe use of music and visual movement, director Mike Leigh engages silent-movie idiom for a study of human behavior that appears out of sync with the times but shouldn’t really, and as memorably performed by Sally Hawkins using an arsenal of unbelievably orchestrated sniggers and jostles and punctuating guffaws, this wild child emerges as an example of humane perseverance. Leigh and Hawkins may have overly conceived this eccentric schoolteacher, but it should be noted that they’re dealing within the realm of fantasy—trying to show how hard it is for people to retain their essential goodness in spite of the indignities small and large that subsume their lives. Which is exactly what Poppy does: From brutal back pain to the supremacist rants of her driving instructor, she keeps it together. For sure, Poppy would be intolerable and worthy of scorn if the film was only concerned with her silliness as it either captivates or confounds friends and strangers alike, but a fully fleshed human being emerges during two impeccably filmed sequences, one in which Poppy devotes herself to the wellbeing of one of her bullying schoolchildren, and another one in which she is drawn to and sits with a homeless man. Through her dedication to human suffering, and her refusal to run from it, it becomes impossible to write Poppy off as some psychopath or sycophant; her compassion to the boy is completely selfless and rewards her with a paramour, and throughout Poppy’s indulging of the homeless man’s crazed ramblings, Hawkins gives stunning expression to the body in conflict, that pained push and pull on the conscience when one struggles to do what is right to one’s own self. Without these striking, borderline frightening scenes that sketch the girl’s selfless devotion to others, it would have been too easy to write Happy-Go-Lucky as a lark. With them, the film soars.
Happy-Go-Lucky is a colorful film, in more ways than one, and the various vibrant hues on display in Sally Hawkins's wardrobe, flat, and classroom are vibrantly conveyed. No noticeable instances of edge enhancement, and skin tones look decent. Sound is.peppy, though I didn't notice the 5.1 surround sound being utilized very much.
Writer-director Mike Leigh's commentary track is a rather quiet affair, isn't it? You can't blame him for getting absorbed in his actors' performances, though he does offer some interesting bits of info regarding Hawkins's largely improvised final driving lesson with an enraged Eddie Marsen, doesn't he? Oh, and Leigh is evidently very fond of the word "again," isn't he? The bonus features are rounded out by two relatively brief featurettes: "Behind the Wheel of Happy-Go-Lucky," which focuses on the many car interior shots of the film, and "Happy-in-Character," which is composed of interviews with Leigh, Hawkins, Marsen, and others discussing Hawkins's exuberant, often exhausting character intercut with scenes from the film displaying said exuberance.
A bit lean on the extras (some deleted scenes would have be nice), but Hawkins and Marsen's performances still make this Happy-Go-Lucky DVD worth every penny, don't they?