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Film Highlight: Happy-Go-Lucky

courtesy of the Walker Art Center

After extended cameos in two previous Mike Leigh films (as a resourceful pop tart in All or Nothing and the date-raped rich girl in Vera Drake), fine-boned Sally Hawkins shoulders the burden of every scene as the most relentlessly upbeat 30-year-old kindergarten teacher ever to bicycle London's streets. The blithe spirit who animates Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky is a priestess of positive polarization. Poppy is either irritating or endearing—whichever you find her, you have to wonder why. With her sharp features, toothy smile, and bright eyes, Hawkins has the creature cuteness of a Disney chipmunk. Her character is naturally friendly, pleased to make eye contact with strangers, an empathetic fount of jokey banter and playful innuendo. One ponders the mystery of Poppy's personality, waiting for her meds to wear off. They never do. Even more than most of Leigh's collectively developed films, Happy-Go-Lucky is a movie about an actor's performance. But it's also deeply concerned with the nature of pedagogy. Poppy not only teaches, she also learns, and her adult devotion to education and occasionally expressed childish desire to fly seem to herald a further stage of human development. Will this light-hearted creature fulfill her earthly mission? At the very least, the spectacle of Poppy's all-around sunny disposition left this viewer feeling unaccountably happy—at least for the moment. This new release is part of the Walker's month-long series "Mike Leigh: Moments," a tribute to the director.


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