Happy Go Lucky [1943]

Mike Leigh has made a career out of unusual films--who else would make a biopic about Gilbert & Sullivan?--but Happy-Go-Lucky may be his most unusual yet: A movie about a woman who is almost compulsively cheerful. Poppy (Sally Hawkins, star of the 2007 miniseries of Persuasion) may at first seem like the most annoying human being alive. She can't help but try to get a smile from someone who's ignoring her. When her bicycle gets stolen, she shrugs it off and decides to learn how to drive, which leads her to form a strange sparring relationship with her frustrated driving instructor, Scott (Eddie Marsan). Meanwhile, she takes flamenco lessons, visits with her squabbling family, tries to help a troubled boy at the school where she teaches, and encounters a homeless man--but this bland catalogue of events doesn't capture how Poppy's relentless optimism acts as a rorschach test to the people around her, reflecting back their worst or best feelings about themselves. Poppy, whose natural impulse is to empathize, discovers she needs to draw boundaries between herself and a world that wants to interpret her cheerfulness in unintended ways. The result is a unique movie experience, one that defies conventional notions of what's dramatic yet grows more absorbing with every moment. Just as it's hard to imagine anyone liking Poppy at the start of Happy-Go-Lucky, it's hard to imagine that anyone doesn't care about her by the movie's end. --Bret Fetzer

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