While he hasn't shied away from comedy in his 20-year film career, British vet Mike Leigh (Vera Drake, Secrets & Lies) isn't really thought of as a feel-good-movie kind of guy. And as you first get to know Poppy (Sally Hawkins), the ebulliently positive force at the center of Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky, you may wonder if he's trying to make up for too much lost time at once.
Her outfits are loud, her personal manner seems forward and ditzy, her exercise routine is regular trampoline and flamenco classes, and her response to a stolen bike is a shrug and a call to arrange driving lessons. That's just the surface of a remarkable character, fascinating as much for her willed optimism as for the effect it has on others, and for what it takes to bring her out of it.
Poppy's work as a schoolteacher reveals some of her depths, with much more coming through the central thread - a series of lessons she has with sad, hateful driving instructor Scott (Eddie Marsan). His growing agitation over what he reads into her cheerful disposition provides an opportunity for viewers to see Poppy's genuine, almost therapeutic nature.
Every performance is top-notch, a common result from Leigh's inclusive, improvisational methods, but Hawkins is extraordinary. Though her scenes with Marsan create a strong, compelling sense of apprehension, in the end, you'll be sharing Poppy's infectious grin.
Opens Friday at the Drexel