2 Stars — Shallow

Finding happiness in an empty life is difficult. Built for significance, each person struggles with the mundane nature of life in unique ways. Some live in solitude hoping to find what they long for from within. Others live in relationship thinking that someone else can help them find themselves. And still others live in a Pollyanna optimism hoping that simple good humor will produce its own joy. It is this optimistic hope that Mike Leigh presents as both director and writer of the United Kingdom film Happy-Go-Lucky.

The ensemble cast centers on Pauline “Poppy” Cross (Sally Hawkins). Poppy is a 30-year-old elementary school teacher who lives with her best friend, Zoe (Alexis Zegerman).

With a banter that reveals their 10-year shared life, Poppy is consistently optimistic while Zoe is the realist. Their love for each other helps them get through life, but their weekend binges and their professional collaboration does not fill their empty souls.

The ensemble also includes Poppy’s two sisters, Suzy (Kate O’Flynn) and Helen (Caroline Martin). Suzy lives in emotional isolation struggling with both her sisters and her dating relationships. Helen has found a husband, bought a house in the suburbs and is having a child. Yet when questioning Poppy’s carefree lifestyle, it is clear that Helen is anything but happy with the choices she has made.

Rounding out the cast are two men. The first is a caustic driver education teacher named Scott (Eddie Marsan). The second is a sensitive social worker named Tim (Samuel Roukin). Both have an interest in Poppy, but it is clear that Scott is a seething person whose anger masks his desire for a relationship.

The emptiness of everyone’s life is palpably experienced within the film. Diligently trying to find something that is missing within people’s lives, the film presents a disappointingly shallow view of life. Not only is there an absence of psychological and social health, there is no hint of spiritual curiosity. That most people are spiritually sensitive is something that could have been woven into these characters lives creating a far more interesting film.

Happy-Go-Lucky is a well-crafted film with interesting dialogue that nevertheless offers little to those who take the time to view it.


» Do you consider yourself a happy person? If you do, how did you find happiness? If you don’t, how are you pursuing happiness?

» The relationship that Poppy and Tim could develop may lead to happiness, but their conversation must go far deeper than their dating banter. Do you believe they will be able to do so? Why or why not?

» The anger of both Suzy and Scott is predictably isolating. Do you know anyone who lives in such a caustic veneer? How do you interact with them?

» Do you believe the use of the name Cross for Poppy’s last name and Zoe as her friend was the author?

Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church on the Mesa. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.