Sunday, June 7, 2009

Happy Go Lucky

I recently watched the film Happy-Go-Lucky, starring Sally Hawkins as Poppy - an ever optimistic, cheerful, and energetic primary school teacher who brings a very unique attitude and way of being to life and to her way of relating to other people. Somehow, she always chooses to stay positive and buoys herself and others up even when things seem evidently bleak. This doesn't really sound terribly fascinating or special perhaps, but the way in which her character is gradually revealed is beautiful. 

At the beginning of the film Poppy is a force to take in, as she insists on always being "on" - cracking jokes nonstop, waving at people she does not know as she leisurely rides her bicycle, never letting the big grin drop from her face even when said bicycle gets stolen. Her sunshiny persona and flamboyant outfits do not seem to fit her surrounding environment, but what appears initially jarring, odd, and almost over-the-top is gradually transformed in our eyes as the film forces the audience to change its perception. Poppy is not cheerful the way a salesperson is cheerful, nor is she using her constant bubbly-ness as a buffer to protect her from the harshness of reality - as we get to know her better, we see how kind, intelligent, and compassionate she is. Rather than forcing the people around her to fit some kind of perfect, happy mold, she accepts all the she comes across without judgement, all while remaining true to her own spirit. When one of the students in her class becomes violent with the other kids, she shows such genuine care, compassion, and kind patience with him that we understand her motivations and world-view more clearly - she chooses to live with true optimism, cheer, and grounded energy but she never shuts the world out to maintain some kind of fantasy for herself. Instead, she sees the world more clearly because she refuses to judge or force it to change. She embraces the life around her, even when it seems scary and painful, and often this brings out the soul and humanity of those who have buried them or simply lost hope. 

It's odd to think about how rare a film like this is - a comedy that is a character study featuring little more than people's day to day interactions. More-so, a comedy that is about genuine happiness and optimism motivated by kindness and innocence. Here, laughter is not a coping mechanism to soften the blows of a harsh world, but a celebration of all the beauty and music that exists even in bleak places. It is always our choice whether we resist what happens and live with cynicism and dreariness, or whether we wake up to every day with hope, curiosity, and a genuine desire to live fully in the moment, embracing all that we come across without judgement and appreciating the freedom and joy that are always with us. 

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