Sunday, January 25, 2009

Write-In: 'Happy-Go-Lucky'

It was bound to happen. Any serious film buff couldn't have been all that surprised when it was announced on Jan. 22 that "The Dark Knight," a money-making child of a genre notoriously ignored by the Academy, would not be competing for Best Picture of 2008. But swapping it out for "The Reader?" An overtly sentimental and hardly remarkable melodrama that's better suited for Lifetime? That stung more than a little bit. If "TDK" had to go, and "Wall-E" never had a prayer to reach beyond Best Animated Feature, surely there were many films more deserving of top five consideration than Stephen Daldry's forced window-dressing of a fascinating Kate Winslet performance. My pick is a movie that was the source of Oscar's most horrifying snub -- "Happy-Go-Lucky," led by the can't-go-wrong Sally Hawkins.

One of the many over-lauded ads for "Slumdog Millionaire" features a quote from a critic calling it “the first great movie of the Obama era.” I'm sure this reviewer meant well, so I'm just gonna sidestep the obviousness of his somewhat offensive ethnic association and simply disagree. I'm also going to assume that he missed "Happy-Go-Lucky," Altman-esque Brit Mike Leigh's immensely refreshing humanistic comedy -- which is odd because the critic in question hails from the U.K. If there's one great '08 film that represents our new age of restored hope and triumph of spirit, it's this one, an airy but never air-headed frolic through the daily life of a common hero who's completely irrepressible and undaunted despite the odds.

If Barack Obama were given a sex change, skin pigmentation surgery, vocal coaching lessons, and a makeover courtesy of Cyndi Lauper and Patricia Field, he'd be Poppy, "Happy-Go-Lucky"'s bubbly commander-in-chief (played by newly-anointed superstar Sally Hawkins in one of the year's very best performances). Guided beautifully by Leigh's free-flowing writing and direction, she and the film she inhabits directly reflect the kind of unwaveringly positive frame of mind that everyone needs to adopt right now. Just like our new president, Poppy exhibits a steadfast, idealistic – and, at times, even unpopular – power that can inspire us all. She makes us believe: “Yes, she can!”

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