Happy-Go-Lucky

A new drama by British director Mike Leigh is always cause for celebration, though if you saw his last two—All or Nothing (2002), about a modern working-class family coming apart at the seams, and Vera Drake (2004), about a good-hearted 1950s matriarch who performs back-alley abortions—you may not have been in a mood to celebrate afterward. Conscious perhaps of his reputation as a misery monger, Leigh takes a step back from the abyss with this story about an irrepressibly cheerful primary school teacher (Sally Hawkins) who loves her work, loves her friends, and loves a night out at the pub. Intent on learning to drive, she meets her opposite number in a furiously pissed-off instructor with horrendous teeth (Eddie Marsan). When the teacher started feeling pain in her spine, I immediately diagnosed meningitis and predicted an agonizing death as punishment for her giddiness. But Leigh pushes the story in a more interesting direction, asking whether people find happiness or simply will it on themselves. R, 118 min.

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