Who’s In It: Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, Alexis Zegerman
The Basics: A London primary school teacher named Poppy goes about her days in orange bras and pink panties and red tights, slyly and optimistically teaching everyone around her with an astonishing and exasperating level of happiness. Like super-happiness. The kind that makes you hate the person for being that way. She never stops sighing, chuckling, grinning and making naughty Popeye-like asides to no one in particular in a really loose plot that involves her taking driving and dancing lessons (with a rage-filled instructor who hates himself for having a crush for her), hanging out with her best girlfriends, intervening with a child bully, stopping to connect to a crazy homeless guy and dealing with her own unhappy sister.
What’s The Deal: You know you’re watching a really excellent movie when, in the opening scenes, the director, Mike Leigh, implies that the main character might actually be nuts and that you’re still supposed to adore her. And then lays on character detail so thickly that you can’t decide whether she’s amazingly decent and put-together or brain-scorchingly annoying and possibly not right in her own head. I went back and forth, which is probably the point. Mike Leigh movies are about people you might really meet, people you might actually be yourself, instead of amplified versions of your own wished-for better life. As her angry driving instructor bellows at her, I kept thinking, “Yeah, well she deserves that.” And then I went back to thinking she was truly wise in the ways she navigates human conflict. You’ll love her and hate her and you definitely won’t forget her. You also won’t want to dress like her—unless you’re colorblind.
Weirdest, Best Moment: Right in the middle of the movie she encounters a homeless man who blusters around spouting gibberish and the occasional “You know what I mean?” as he, like other, slightly-less-ecstatic-to-be-alive people in the movie, tries to get away from her. Her response: “Yeah. I do.” It happens in the dark (most of the rest of the movie happens in bright broad daylight) and it’s a really strange counterpoint to the rest of what happens on screen. You know right then that her relentlessly happy disposition is less about being a weirdo than about intuitively knowing what’s on the other side.
Starring Nobody You’ve Ever Heard Of: Another cool thing about Mike Leigh movies is that he doesn’t use big stars. Because really, as much as I liked Changeling, I never once forgot I was looking at the slightly lippier half of Brangelina. Sally Hawkins (Poppy) and Eddie Marsan (the driving instructor, who’s the perfect, spitting, furious, dark side of her sweetie-pieness) are character actors who’ve been in lots of other things, but they’ve stayed under the radar. Now, of course, they’ll be nominated for awards and stuff and wind up as the kooky friend in some American romantic comedy starring Kate Hudson and Mike Leigh will never use them in another movie. There’s always a trade-off.