Directed by: Mike Leigh
Written by:Mike Leigh
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Alexis Zegerman, Eddie Marsan, Kate O’Flynn, Caroline Martin
Released: June 26, 2008
Grade: A

Let me come straight out and say it – I love this movie.  It’s funny, charming and perceptive.  I hadn’t heard of it before when I walked into the cinema and now, I can’t seem to forget about it.  With a mix of comedy and drama, it’s another feather in the cap of brilliant English director Mike Leigh (Secrets & Lies, Topsy-Turvy, Vera Drake).

The central character is a 30-year-old primary school teacher named Poppy.  As soon as you meet Poppy, you’ll find yourself drawn into her world.  It may sound hard to believe but she is always happy.  She finds the silver lining even in the most depressive of situations.  In the opening credits, you see her ride her bike through the streets of London whilst wearing a brightly coloured outfit and a beaming smile on her face.

Unfortunately, her positive outlook on life doesn’t sit well with everyone.  Her driving instructor, Scott (Marsan), has a very cynical view of the world and is frustrated with Poppy’s sunny disposition.  He doesn’t think that she’s taking the lessons seriously.  Their personality clashes make for some humorous conversations.

Then, there’s Poppy’s sister, Helen (Martin).  Helen and her husband have moved into a new home and they are expecting their first child.  They are stressing over their finances and their upcoming parenthood.  When the bubbly Poppy pays them a visit, Helen’s insecurities come out into the open.  She’s jealous of Poppy’s “happy-go-lucky” lifestyle.  She can’t understand why she doesn’t want to settle down, find a husband and have children.

Sally Hawkins plays Poppy and it’s one of the finest performances I’ve seen all year.  I’ve seen interviews with Hawkins and even off screen, she has a naturally endearing personality.  She steps it up a notch here and in doing so, has created a very memorable character.

There’s more to the story than what I’ve described above.  Serious events and confrontations occur that leave Poppy questioning her inner self.  Can she continue to act the way she does or will she have to change to conform with society?  When her best friend tells her that she can’t make everyone happy, Poppy responds with “there’s no harm in trying though, is there?”

I usually associate writer-director Mike Leigh with darker material and perhaps he enjoyed the challenge of a lighter screenplay.  He’s done a terrific job and I particularly enjoyed the film score from Gary Yershon - it suits the material perfectly.

Could you be friends with someone as enthusiastic as Poppy?  Would you feel better about yourself or worse?  Would you see her as amusing or infuriating?  All I know for sure is that Sally Hawkins put a smile on my face and for that, this film deserves the highest praise.