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NYFF 2008: “Happy-Go-Lucky.”

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10142008_happygolucky.jpgYou’re not supposed to take to Poppy right off the bat. She rides through London in her wildly colored outfit over the opening credits grinning so cheerily that at any moment a chorus of animated forest creatures threatens to leap out and provide backup as she burst into song. She pops into a bookstore and tries to chat up the utterly resistant cashier as she browses. She is, to put it lightly, irritating as all hell. When she rounds the corner to leave, her bike is gone, and she just sighs “We didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye,” a response which seems to come from a mindset far beyond that of zen happiness, one that might be considered insanity.

But Poppy, embodied marvelously by Sally Hawkins, isn’t insane. After a little more time, she doesn’t even grate. By the film’s end, she without a doubt the year’s most memorable character. “Happy-Go-Lucky” is a looking glass companion to Mike Leigh’s own 1993’s “Naked,” an episodic, deeply intent character study based around someone who, instead of wandering through life disgorging rage and misanthropy, floats along in a glow of irrepressible good will. “Float” is not, perhaps, fair: Poppy, a single, 30-year-old elementary school teacher who shares a flat with her best friend in North London, isn’t living aimlessly, but is so gigglingly open to what comes her way that excursions like flamenco lessons, a visit to a chiropractor, a day trip to a sibling’s house, or a standing weekend appointment with a sour driving instructor become adventures in miniature.

Trust Leigh, professional miserablist, to present such a thorny yet most deceptively simple view of happiness — that, basic needs taken care of, many of us are in the luxurious position of having it be a choice. Poppy’s existence is neither lavish nor lacking, and she’s deliberately not easy to peg by economics or class; she’s got a semi-bohemian but very much adult life, a sister she connects with and another with which she doesn’t, she’s educated and has traveled. The joy with which she approaches everything is neither the result of privilege nor some misplacedly rosy view of a life unfettered. She’s content with what she has and what she is, incapable of casting judgment on those who live differently and unbudgeable when confronted with others who would turn judgment on her. They do, particularly her married sister, who becomes shrilly defensive when no one expresses envy of her suburban house or her pregnancy, and Scott the driving instructor (a very good Eddie Marsan), a bundle of bitterness, loneliness and neuroses whose shell Poppy chips away at over the weeks, only to find it was what was holding him together.

One quibble with a film I find otherwise delightful — there’s a scene of Poppy, out at night, coming across a mentally ill homeless man who she follows to a dark underpass, where he tells her in half-comprehensible shards about something from his past. She’s frightened, but stays with him anyway, trying to figure out if he needs help, trying to understand. There’s never any doubting Poppy’s compassion, but it’s a moment that goes too far for a film that takes place in a sunny but unprettily real world. Happiness is one thing, putting yourself in such an unsafe situation on a whim is another, and it seems irrational. And Poppy, while giddy, is certainly not that.

“Happy-Go-Lucky” is now open in limited release. For more coverage of the New York Film Festival, click here.

[Photo: “Happy-Go-Lucky,” Miramax, 2008]

+ “Happy-Go-Lucky” (NYFF)
+ “Happy-Go-Lucky” (Miramax)


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.