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There are misnomers, and then there are star-crossed, genetically out-of-the-question, this-can't-be-true misnomers. Poppy Cross' surname is one of the latter. She's about as cross as a kid who gets to eat ice cream for breakfast on Christmas morning. In her London neighborhood, where pensive faces crowd streets like cars, her sweet grin is as conspicuous as it is invigorating.
Well, to her friends, it is. Passersby sometimes think she's a bit off.
But Poppy isn't fazed by her name's malapropism or her stranger-deterring uniqueness. In fact, often to her credit, the flamboyant, eclectic, almost maniacally merry elementary school teacher is not fazed by much of anything. And despite many Londoners' inability to take her friendliness seriously, Poppy is hardly clueless. This 30-year-old single woman in a kaleidoscope wardrobe has simply made a very definite choice: She chooses happiness. Even in situations where most of us would choose to be miserable.
Her infectious bliss helps her successfully navigate the theft of her bicycle, her disapproving sister Helen's criticism, setbacks in her classroom, her almost nonexistent love life and intense flamenco lessons from a militantly passionate dance instructor. Apparently, based on many of Poppy's reactions, it's really hard to feel stressed or pessimistic when you're constantly looking for good in difficult people and situations. (Who knew?!)
But even exuberant Poppy has somber moments. She meets her opposite in driving instructor Scott, who is clinically and chronically devoid of optimism and humor. This acerbic cynic from the "Axle School of Motoring" condemns, disparages and inadvertently reframes Poppy's buoyancy. A bit shaken by her interactions with him, she begins pondering more than just how to use a rearview mirror and stick shift.
Poppy's attitude toward much of life is remarkable. How many people are there who laugh in between winces at the chiropractor's office? Yet chirpy Poppy does just that, trying to convince us that looking on the bright side of every stressful situation is much less painful than griping about it.
Poppy cares deeply for her young students whether she's squawking in a chicken mask amid her flapping flock or trying to help kids appreciate the world's beauty. And when confronting a young bully in her classroom, she approaches the child gently yet purposefully, sussing out his problems, and providing direction and support.
Poppy and Zoe (her colleague and housemate of 10 years) have a strong, loving, gently witty friendship that helps them endure classroom woes, loneliness, passive single men and the general malaise of life. Suzy (Poppy's sister) also enjoys a strong, fun relationship with Poppy.
Colleagues and friends of Poppy's make numerous comments on the state of society, including the welfare of children in a violent, Internet- and video game-saturated world. They sympathize with parents who are overburdened and weary. They have no definite solutions, but they continue to be caring teachers.
Though Helen calls her an old maid, Poppy is anything but. She has traveled the world and lived life to what she feels is its fullest. She doesn't dwell on the fact that she's single. Instead she strives to be happy within her diverse family of close friends.
Overbearing Scott tests her patience, but Poppy still reaches out to him when she realizes he may be so emotionally broken because he was bullied in childhood.
To teach people how to drive, Scott employs the names of three fallen angels (one of whom he calls Enraha) to illustrate the "golden triangle" of car mirrors. After witnessing his peculiar blend of bitterness, freakiness and aggression, Poppy asks him if he's a Satanist. He refutes her by saying he's the Pope. She wonders if that's not the same thing.
Scott says the road to hell is paved with good intentions, which Poppy says "sounds like fun." Later he tells her she'll "crash and die laughing," and she says this is the best way to go. Then Poppy asks Scott if he's afraid of death. (He's not, but he's afraid of the dying that leads to death.) When Poppy asks Zoe what the meaning of life is, Zoe responds by reading Poppy's palm.
Happy-Go-Lucky's other-side-of-the-pond humor occasionally left this American reviewer wondering, Was that sexual or did I miss something?
But I know I didn't miss anything when Poppy, Zoe and others collapse at a friend's house after a night of clubbing. They're drunk to the point of silliness as they joke about sexual conquests and body parts while repeatedly poking at each others' breasts. Poppy removes her bra's silicon inserts, flopping them around and calling them "chicken fillets."
Women's necklines are often as happy-go-lucky as the film's title, plunging even when they're attached to a T-shirt. Poppy and her colleagues teach their grade-schoolers while sporting cleavage. And other skimpy clothing includes short skirts, shorts and halter tops. At the chiropractor, Poppy strips down to her bra, panties and lacy stockings.
Now, about Poppy's almost nonexistent love life: She takes steps to "remedy" that situation when she and a social worker she meets at school have dinner and sex on their first date. We see them kiss deeply and partially undress each other (he ends up bare-chested and she in her bra and skirt) before he lies on top of her in bed. The next morning we see them from the back in their underwear.
Scott yells at Poppy several times for her muddled and somewhat flippant driving style. At one point when his attitude has gone seriously south, he grabs her hair, violently shakes her head and hits her while she's behind the wheel. When she gets out of the car, he chases her around it, screaming obscenities.
One of Poppy's students acts out by bullying other children, pushing and hitting. (It's established that the bully's mother's boyfriend abuses him.)
Crude or Profane Language
At least 15 f-words and five s-words. Christ's name is abused two or three times. Rude language and crude name-calling includes "b-gger," "shag," "h---," "p---," "d--n," "b--ch," "pr--k" and "b--tard."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Poppy says it best herself: Drinking is bad, "but I can't help myself." She jokes about tying several on with a boyfriend in Florida and driving anyway. She and her friends rarely meet without drinking alcohol and laughing about it somehow. They also smoke (possibly marijuana at one point) in a couple of scenes.
Other Negative Elements
There are jokes about a mother who has syphilis and cutting off a man's testicles. Scott assumes Zoe and Poppy are lesbian lovers, and Poppy plays along just for fun. A man urinates in an alleyway.
Scott tells Poppy to lock the doors when driving by several black people on bicycles. (Poppy can't believe he says this.)
While trying to help flamenco students manufacture passion (anger) for the dance, the instructor tells them to visualize inciting and off-color situations. Suzy and her boyfriend break up in a very public and disrespectful way. Poppy's sisters and brother-in-law don't necessarily "feel the love" and often treat each other rudely.
It's true. Poppy's attitude toward life and the people experiencing it with her seems pretty amazing. She's accepting of everyone and every situation she meets. Her novelty in a despairing society is a breath of fresh air and, in this case, it's meant to be:
In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, British writer/director Mike Leigh says, "I feel that in the doomed world of the 21st century ... it's very understandable that there is a growing fashion to be miserable and negative and pessimistic. It's very inevitable, indeed, but ... let's hold on and look at the possibilities of what happens if you deal with things, and that's what Poppy does, and that's what the film is about."
But does Poppy really deal with problems so much as she minimizes or fails to recognize them? When it comes to her teaching, she's right on the mark. But her hands-off approach to her personal life lacks discernment. How many people, for example, would (should) continue to put up with a vengeful driving instructor who belittles more than he teaches? Yet Poppy gives him money week after week—even though she doesn't seem serious about driving. And as Scott gets increasingly surly, she happily takes it on the chin. (It's not until he physically assaults her that she reacts.)
Healthy boundaries clearly aren't her specialty. One night during a random encounter with a homeless man, she continues to hang around and speak to him even though he's jittery and irrational—and she's alone where no one could hear her scream for help. Happy-Go-Lucky doesn't let us know why she so casually shirks common sense, except to make the point that she truly is happy-go-lucky—emphasis on the lucky since she comes to no harm. She's utterly unwilling to condemn anyone by judging them and therefore also seems to lack the judgment necessary to make wise decisions for herself.
Poppy's moral choices crumble, too, as she gets repeatedly sloshed and hooks up sexually with her almost-a-stranger boyfriend. With godly underpinnings invisible in her life, laissez-faire laxness leads to perpetual adolescence. Indeed, Zoe and Poppy specifically talk about growing up: "It's a long trip to adulthood" one of them says. The other replies, "Yeah. Tell me when we get there."
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Sally Hawkins as Poppy Cross; Michael Marsen as Scott; Alexis Zegerman as Zoe; Kate O'Flynn as Suzy Cross; Andrea Riseborough as Dawn
Mike Leigh ( )