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Friday, July 23, 2010

Friday Film Buff: Sunny Disposition

There is an old Peanuts cartoon in which Charlie Brown describes the particulars of how to properly carry oneself when one wants to be depressed.
"When you're depressed, it makes a lot of difference how you stand," says Charlie. "The worst thing you can do is straighten up and hold your head high because then you'll start to feel better. If you're going to get any joy out of being depressed, you've got to stand like this."
The punchline, of course, is that Charlie Brown isn't happy unless he's depressed, which sounds a bit like a lot of the people I know - including the gloomy fellow I encounter in the bathroom mirror from time to time.
There is an underlying message in the cartoon, though, and one that the gloomy mirror-guy too frequently forgets. That message is that it takes a good deal of effort to be unhappy - often as much or more than it takes to be happy. Some of us have gotten so good at it that it seems effortless now, but, really it isn't. You have to think of things that are unfair. You have to compare yourself to others. You have to ignore any evidence that could contradict the fact that you absolutely must be miserable.
When I recently watched the Mike Leigh film Happy-Go-Lucky, I found myself thinking of that old Peanuts cartoon.
Poppy, the protagonist with the titular affliction, is absolutely stalwart in her unflappability. Her default expression is a gigantic smile, and her sense of humor is heightened to the point of being a gift.
Within the first ten minutes of the movie you will either want to hug Poppy or strangle her, which says more about you than it does about her. However, even if you are in the latter group, Sally Hawkins as Poppy will win you over. Her smile and laughter are infectious. Her lust for life is almost enviable, or it would be if you could manage any emotion other than affection for Poppy.
I was tempted to think that there was something wrong with Poppy - that she somehow was diminished in her mental or social abilities. After all, the rest of us are miserable, what's wrong with her?
The answer is . . . nothing. Poppy is an intelligent, world-traveled, college-educated primary school teacher. She simply chooses to be happy.
Others whom she encounters in her daily life are more familiar to us at first, more relatable. They dislike their jobs, their bosses, their customers, their lots in life. Their happiness is fleeting, and some even take offense at Poppy's joie de vivre, as though her happiness is an affront to normalcy.
As director/writer Mike Leigh navigates the audience through Poppy's world, I found myself relating less and less to the other characters and drawn more and more to Poppy's philosophy. When her flatmate Zoe says to her, "You can't make everyone happy," Poppy's response (with a smile and a giggle) is "There's no harm in trying, though, is there?"
I would be hard pressed to summarize briefly what this movie is about other than that it's about. . . Poppy, and that is more than enough.
This movie has stayed with me, and it has colored the way that I approach my day. Old habits sometimes die hard, but I often think of how things that I let ruin my day wouldn't even be a blip on Poppy's screen.
Now, I'm not going to start making "WWPD" bracelets, but it is definitely worth remembering that - no matter what comes our way in life - we have a choice about how we react to it.
Loved, loved, loved this movie. I had to keep scanning backwards to re-watch scenes over which I was laughing too hard to hear all of the dialogue.

1 comment:

Ekwoman said...

Glad to hear you liked it. I had thought about getting it from Netflix but it had meh reviews. I'll put it in my queue, now! Apologies ahead of time if I end up relating to Poppy! :-)