In a sprawling two-page review, Stephanie Zacharek praises Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky and declares Sally Hawkins’ performance the year’s best.¬† I went looking for the money shot and I found it:
Hawkins has worked with Leigh before, in both ‚ÄúVera Drake‚Äù and ‚ÄúAll or Nothing.‚Äù (She also gave the only believable performance amid the complete bunk of Woody Allen‚Äôs ‚ÄúCassandra‚Äôs Dream.‚Äù) But here, Leigh has given her the challenge of a lifetime ‚Äî the kind of role an actress can play at just one point in her life ‚Äî and she more than meets it. In that exchange with the homeless guy, Poppy does the unthinkable: She listens, to someone whose enunciation is almost impossible to understand, and to someone who obviously smells bad. She leans in close to hear what everyone else has shut out, the everyday sound of music.
And if you think the character is going to annoy you (how could you not think that), Zacharek addresses that as well:
Leigh introduces Poppy in the movie‚Äôs opening credits: A rather ditzy-looking brunette decked out in a multicolored crocheted cardigan and lace tights, she‚Äôs riding a bicycle through London streets, waving and smiling at people whom, even at this early stage, we‚Äôre certain she doesn‚Äôt know. She pops into a bookstore and promptly begins to annoy its taciturn clerk with her prattle. Taking a book called ‚ÄúRoad to Reality‚Äù from the shelf, she natters, ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt want to be going there!‚Äù She laughs at her own jokes, because she can‚Äôt crack even a smile from that annoyed clerk. Leaving the store, she realizes her bicycle has been stolen, and she shows just a flash of exasperation before resigning herself to its loss: ‚ÄúWe didn‚Äôt even get a chance to say goodbye.‚Äù
The key to that early scene, at least for me, is that Poppy is both unbearable and compelling. In those early moments, I wasn‚Äôt sure I could stand her for the duration of a whole movie. I was afraid she was going to be one of those women ‚Äî you can find them everywhere, but I happened to encounter a lot of them in Cambridge, Mass., in the 16 years I lived in the area ‚Äî who smile moronically at everything, even when there‚Äôs nothing to smile at, who refuse to countenance anything that might bring negative energy into their airspace. Their insistence that the world should be ‚Äúnice‚Äù has always seemed, to me, laced with control-freak hostility.