What's first striking is the musical score. Music can set such a mood. The score of Gary Yershon sets you up to be in a happy mood. As you watch the main character of Poppy, played by Golden Globe winner Sally Hawkins, cruising on her bike down a city street, the wind through her hair, the glee on her face, it makes you happy-go-lucky too.
Before I continue, this British comedy has a very, very simple plot, so simple, as to almost not exist. While this may prove a problem in other movies, it's not here. In fact, most comedies are severely undermined with either complicated or contrived plots that attempt to force situations and thus force comedy.
This comedy is not forced or contrived at all. It feels so real, so fresh and so natural, you can't help but fall in love with it, or at least feel so comfortable and at ease with it. Much of that can be attributed to director Mike Leigh whose Oscar-nominated script was mostly crafted based on the real, fresh and natural improvisations between his actresses.
Yes, this film is mostly a chick flick with a limited male presence but the movie is so breezy and sexy that any gender can enjoy. But, the lack of plot makes this movie, more or less, a character study where the point is understanding the protagonist, and not just understanding but fully feeling who she is, and both Leigh and Hawkins accomplish that.
Poppy is a primary school teacher living in London who herself has to be taught a few things. We spend a few months in her life. We are offered glimpses of her various activities. From bike rides to boat rides, and dance lessons to driving lessons, we get snapshots of Poppy's world and worldview, and what we learn is Poppy is overly optimistic and almost, unflinchingly positive. Her constant, upbeat nature is powerful and sometimes comes in conflict to others, most often to those who are trying to teach her.
In the process of being taught things, Poppy's Pollyanna-like disposition is tested by her fiery, flamenco teacher and her lonely, bitter driving instructor, named Scott, played by Eddie Marsan. It's her relationship with Scott that offers the most challenge.
This film is gravitated by Hawkins and Marsan who give such brilliant performances. Hawkins isn't so soft and open, and, Marsan isn't so hard and closed. You feel that they're humans with their own complexities and many layers, and you connect with that.
Cheers to Leigh's writing and direction here. He delivers such a curious and lovely, humanistic comedy. I have to point out one amazing scene two-thirds through the film when Poppy goes on a trip with her sisters and a confrontation occurs that pits Poppy's free-spirit way of life with her sister's married, constrained and predictable one.
It touches upon several issues. It's so smartly done, but the major point is about womanhood, about what a woman's role is supposed to be, and about what or where a woman should be in order to be, or be perceived as happy.
This isn't just a great cinematic portrait of Poppy. It's a great cinematic portrait of womanhood.
On the DVD, there is a special feature called "Behind the Wheel," which illuminates how the driving scenes were done. On the movie's commentary, director Mike Leigh talks about the abundant surveillance cameras in London. The Ford Focus used in this film is decked out with seven surveillance HD cameras, turning it into a mobile movie studio, structured to give the actors freedom to drive and act.
Five Stars out of Five
Rated R for language
Running Time: 1 hr. and 58 mins.