Posted October 22, 2008 in Film

This decade’s anthropologists have decried the tyranny of happiness, the emotional chokehold that throttles people, particularly Americans, into believing that if they aren’t smiling, they aren’t living. Here comes a curious little film by British writer-director Mike Leigh about a schoolteacher named Poppy (Sally Hawkins) who uses happiness as a bulletproof vest. No matter what happens, she’s in bliss, much to the affection of her gruff best friend Zoe (Alexis Segerman) and consternation of her driving instructor Scott (Eddie Marsan), a bitter racist whose made Poppy the focus of his anger and loneliness.  We can see why her cheeriness makes everyone batty—we, too, are torn between loving Poppy and wanting to slap her across the face. Leigh’s stance is less clear than that of professor Eric G. Wilson, author of Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy who wrote that a “rabid focus on exuberance leads to half-lives, to bland existences, to wastelands of mechanistic behavior.” The intentions of this oddity are muddled, but Hawkins, Segerman, and Marsan’s small portraits of ordinary people choosing their path through the daily range of depression and delight are fully alive. (Amy Nicholson)


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