Being happy is the single most significant purpose to anyone’s existence. Fact. I mean, you only have one life which is slowly creeping towards the end every single second, and if you’re not spending it being happy then what on earth are you doing? That’s like going to Alton Towers and not going on any of the rides. Pointless.
Granted, it’s not easy to be happy all of the time, seeing as how adult life (and let’s be fair - teenage life too) is generally rubbish. If all you had to do was be happy then everyone would be fine, but the whole “having to survive - ergo having to eat food - ergo having to buy food - ergo having to earn money” thing can get in the way. But if you’ve made choices that mean there is absolutely no happiness in your life what-so-ever, then really. What are you doing? You’re essentially endlessly watching Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and refusing to change the DVD. You’re being stupid. Change the DVD. Simple.
There. After counselling the whole world, I’ll now get back to business. Happy-Go-Lucky is a film from Mike Leigh, a man whose last work was generally unhappy (Vera Drake - described by Cinemafool in the 2005 review as “well acted, but fairly loose on plot and so, so dreary“). It features Poppy (the superb Sally Hawkins), a 30 year-old who sees everything half full. She embraces life, tries to make everyone else happy, and is generally a nice person. In reality, anyone that happy and lively is most likely tucking away all the niggling unhappiness, saving it for massive unrelenting sessions of grief when she’s completely alone. They didn’t show that - it might have gone against the point. But I’m just saying. It’ll be one of the deleted scenes.
Being more of a character study than a plot-filled romp, HGL struggles at first as Poppy’s endlessly cheery nature begins to grate. We watch her be happy at a series of characters, and the point of it all starts to be in question. But then Poppy enrols on driving lessons and we get Scott (Eddie Marsan), and everything becomes supremely better. The driving lesson scenes are pure genius, a pitbull of anger and insanity versus a balloon of happiness and, err, insanity. Half way through and my opinion had completely reversed. But as the film continues, that same sense of “and we’re watching this because…?” looms in, and though some areas - the Flamenco lesson, the trip to the physio (hurray!), the impossibly gorgeous social worker - are pleasant to watch, others - the wedged-in tramp scene - test your patience, and this two hour film does start to test you, even when you’re full of yummy donuts.
What is refreshing to see, however, is a film with predominantly female characters who aren’t prancing about trying to look gorgeous, pining over blokes, “gossiping” and, well, being like in the Sex & the City trailer. As in, supposedly strong female role models but in fact botoxed Hollywood lovelies designed to continue to make normal women feel like shit. The women in Happy-Go-Lucky are normal women. They like to dress up and have a good time. They have jobs. They slob about at home. They talk about feelings. They take the piss out of each other. There is no learning curve, no revelation. No handsome man to make everything better (pretty much, anyway). Such a thing is rare, and for this I raise my hands in applause.
Siphon off the superfluous scenes around the driving lessons and bare bones of this colourful character, and you’d have a powerful film about making the most of life and, well, being happy. But as it stands, Happy-Go-Lucky is a mixed bag of laugh-out-loud hilarity and seat-shuffle tedium. It notches up a CF1, which is something to be happy about. Just not ecstatic.