You may have wondered what is this movie "Happy-Go-Lucky" that keeps winning year-end awards from critics -- e.g.:
British comedy "Happy-Go-Lucky" has almost swept the 43 Annual National Society of Film Critics Awards on Saturday, taking home four trophies including Best Director for Mike Leigh.
Here's my review from a couple of months ago in The American Conservative:
“Happy-Go-Lucky,” five-time Oscar nominee Mike Leigh’s “quirky” and “offbeat” comedy about a young London schoolteacher who is, yes, happy-go-lucky, has enjoyed the most unanimous critical acclaim of any film this year. All 31 “Top Critics” on the Rotten Tomatoes website have given “Happy-Go-Lucky” their personal thumbs up. Indeed, star Sally Hawkins has a shot at an Oscar nomination because Academy members like to vote for obscure British actresses in low budget movies nobody has seen, such as Imelda Staunton’s Best Actress nod for Leigh’s last film, “Vera Drake.”
Leigh, a Best Director nominee for 1996’s “Secrets and Lies,” prides himself on improvising slice-of-life leftwing movies about the English working class, which this Royal Academy of the Dramatic Arts graduate knows all about because his physician father had proletarian patients.
Since he doesn’t work from a script, investors are cautious about investing in Leigh’s vague ideas. "My tragedy as a filmmaker now," he declaims, "is that there is a very limited ceiling on the amount of money anyone will give me to make a film.” So, the British National Lottery obligingly kicked in some of “Happy-Go-Lucky’s” budget.
Lotteries are notoriously a tax on stupidity; evidently, they are also a subsidy for vapidity because “Happy-Go-Lucky” is the worst movie by a prominent director since M. Night Shyamalan’s allergy allegory “The Happening.” Leigh’s film is smug, boring, plotless, and pointless, the perfect embodiment of the Obama Era of liberal self-congratulation.
To Leigh, Hawkins’s character “Poppy” is as adorable as the two Audreys: Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s" and Tatou in “Amélie.” To me, Hawkins is insufferable. Imagine a “Star Wars” prequel in which a female Jar-Jar Binks hogs the screen for the entire two hours. Poppy smirks, snickers, and sniggers, mugging like Jim Varney in those old “Hey Vern” movies, an overgrown class clown laughing relentlessly at her own jokes, which are never, ever funny.
There’s nothing more excruciating than watching people onscreen laugh, especially when they crack themselves up. (What’s really funny is seeing characters mortified with embarrassment.) In general, happy people aren’t very funny and funny people aren’t very happy. A friend had dinner in the 1990s with the famous comic Jackie Mason, and reported that it was a grim ordeal. Mason spent the evening complaining about how Ed Sullivan had “ruined his career” in 1964.
And how exactly did Poppy, a North Londoner, acquire her quasi-Australian accent? Her youngest sister, a drunken law student, talks like Sid Vicious, but Poppy sounds like the Crocodile Hunter. In a male actor, a working class Australian accent sounds manly yet affable (that’s why the U.S.-born Mel Gibson normally plays his American roles with an unexplained hint of Down Under in his voice), but on a woman it just sounds tomboyish and goofy.
Most of Leigh’s movies have been about the oppression of the proletariat, but by 2008 their values are apparently ascendant in London. Any character who thinks about the future—such as Poppy’s one married, home-owning sister—is scorned as a buzz-kill.
Most people in “Happy-Go-Lucky” have pleasant government jobs. Judging from this movie, the British welfare state exists mostly so people with soft college degrees can have some place to hang out together while making plans for which pub or disco to go to after work.
The only plot device consists of Poppy’s weekly driving lessons with a tightly wound little fundamentalist Christian with bad teeth, played by Eddie Marsan. I initially assumed these two equally unattractive single people would wind up settling for each other, but when he insists she lock the car doors when two black youths bicycle by, he demonstrates (in Leigh’s mental universe) that he is morally unworthy of her, and probably a dangerous psycho to boot.
Instead, Leigh hooks her up with a school social worker, who is played by a ludicrously handsome young actor who looks like one of those towering Olympic swimming medalists with massively masculine jawlines molded by years of Human Growth Hormone abuse.
One vignette of this momentum-free movie unwittingly exemplifies the female cluelessness that has made Britain’s schools a dystopia of juvenile male thuggishness. When one of her students starts punching other children, does Poppy punish him? No, she signs the bully up for counseling, which consists of three adults—the headmistress, Poppy, and her future boyfriend—sitting around praising the little lout and asking him what’s the real reason he hits people. (Actual answer: it’s fun.)
Rated R for language.