Are you feeling happy-go-lucky? Check out this article by Nicholas Porter.
The genius of Mike Leigh’s rom-com masterpiece Happy-Go-Lucky is that it’s not really a rom-com. Not only is it not a rom-com, but it’s a direct and abject criticism of rom-coms. It’s a subtle, well-crafted middle finger to our modern notions of optimism, romance, expectations and narrative.
The key to the film is (naturally) its main character, Poppy (Sally Hawkins). She’s a carefree, lively and fun school teacher with an unwaveringly optimistic outlook on life. When I first watched the film, her “happy-go-lucky” attitude grated on me – “Stop being so damn cheerful all the time – someone literally just stole your bike, for goodness sake!” – An attitude shared by almost all of the other characters: all the people in her life warn her that she should be less easy-going, lest she be torn apart by a cynical and unkind world.
Already this creates a certain expectation for the audience – the film is going to be about her realising how juvenile and silly her behaviour is, right? And when she meets her curmudgeonly driving instructor, Scott (Eddie Marsan), the film is going to be dedicated to watching these two grow to understand each other, until they finally realise their love for each other and consummate their relationship, right? And the handsome, charming man who enters Poppy’s life and wins her affections is going to turn out to be a scumbag right? Right? Wrong.
I won’t go into too much detail to avoid spoiling it (the film really can’t be “spoiled”, per say, but still), but suffice to say: Mike Leigh isn’t interested in making conventional romantic comedies. He’s interested in dissecting them. Why do we watch them? How do we watch them? What do they say about us, as a culture? We have become accustomed to disguising cynicism as maturity and experience – and Happy-Go-Lucky is a breath of fresh air in that regard. I’ll admit, it’s a difficult film to attune to (you might even outright dislike it). The narrative structure is off-kilter, the cinematography understated; it doesn’t leap off the screen and drill into your mind or anything like that– but there is so much going on under the surface it’s worth watching and taking some time to think about. Highly recommended.
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