DVD Corner: “Happy-Go-Lucky”

Posted March 13, 2009, at 7:22 p.m.

“Happy-Go-Lucky” DVD: In Mike Leigh’s new film, the central character, a 30-year-old British schoolteacher named Poppy (Sally Hawkins), is an unhinged blur on the screen, a light shining so brightly you can’t help but want to shield your eyes and block her out — forever. She’s so cheerful, chummy and chatty, her smiling mouth filling the screen with a sort of appalling happiness that you want to switch her off. Only there’s no switch; so you watch her, tolerate her and wish she’d just tone it down. But Poppy is her own caffeine, a force thrown into a world so cynical and disenfranchised it doesn’t know how to handle someone with such high spirits. For Poppy, it’s good that those close to her understand her and love her, including her roommate Zoe (Alexis Zegerman, wonderful) and her younger sister Suzy (Kate O’Flynn). Their conversations are as energetic as anything in a Robert Altman movie, with the actors talking over each other in ways so natural the movie deepens its appeal as it unfolds. But for those who don’t know Poppy, she’s an annoying mystery. Take, for instance, her disturbed driving instructor, Scott (Eddie Marsan). Here is a man who so defines road rage — whether toward the person he’s teaching or those on the road — and you believe that he hasn’t had a good day in his whole life. He is the film’s hostile core, so infused with anger there are moments you think he will spontaneously combust. It’s how Poppy treats him — with a kindness he never has known and then, when their relationship intensifies, with a directness that cuts through him — that sets the film up for its best scene. What you learn is that happiness is a choice for Poppy. At first, you think it comes naturally to her, but by the end, when you’ve seen her facade slip a little, you understand that this is the person she has chosen to be, and that the choice isn’t easy to hold up in the swirl of negativity around her. A kind of admiration sinks in — and with it, this odd little movie lifts. Rated R. Grade: B+

“Hotel Babylon: Season Three”: Those who recall with fondness the 1980s American nighttime soap opera “Hotel” should check out the BBC’s “Hotel Babylon: Season Three,” which is glamorous, but in a different way. In this robust series, these Brits are hard-core harlots, slinking through the swank hotel in question to generate all sorts of sex, strife, bitterness and melodrama while dealing with the high-strung and usually oversexed guests. Emma Pierson, Dexter Fletcher and Max Beesley star. Grade: B+

“The Nanny: Complete Third Season”: Fran Drescher back in the cackle as Fran Fine, the meddling nanny from Flushing, N.Y., with the big hair, the quirky relatives, the outrageous “low-couture” ensembles and nasally voice. She’s an emotional whirligig. By the third season of this popular series, her pursuit of her employer, the dull Broadway producer Maxwell Sheffield (Charles Shaughnessy), was on full burn — not that he recognized it, clueless as he was. Butler Niles (Daniel Davis) is key to the show’s success; he matches Drescher’s energy. The children, however, do not. Grade: B

“Role Models” DVD, Blu-ray: Stars Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott as Danny and Wheeler, two adult best friends who haven’t exactly reached their personal zeniths. During any given week, you’ll find them humiliating themselves by shucking an energy drink called Minotaur at school conventions. But when they get into trouble with the law, they find themselves at a crossroads — go to jail for one month or give 150 hours of community service to the rough-and-tumble world of “Sturdy Wings,” essentially a Big Brothers program, though not in any conventional sense. It is, run by Gayle (Jane Lynch, sour, bitter, outstanding), who claims she once ate cocaine for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Since she apparently has been reformed, she wants the best for her young charges, the lot of whom she calls her “Littles.” For Gayle’s “Bigs,” such as bright, sarcastic Danny, who is so gloomy, his relationship with his lawyer girlfriend, Beth (Elizabeth Banks), ends as the movie begins, that means being saddled with Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), an endearing geek. To escape his difficult, combative home life, he exists in a medieval fantasy world, dressing in capes and partaking in fake battles with others of similar ilk. As for Wheeler, who isn’t as sharp as Danny but whose heart is bigger, he’s challenged with Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson, stealing each of his scenes), a devil child with a mind for trouble. This kid isn’t just a handful — he’s the antichrist. As played by Thompson, he’s also one of the movie’s great pleasures — he’s such a gifted comic, he gives the movie the boost of unpredictability it needs and helps to distract from what otherwise is just a simple film driven by formula. Rated R. Grade: B+

“South Park: Complete Twelfth Season” DVD, Blu-ray: For those wondering what really can come out of the mouths of babes, look no further. Twelve seasons out, “South Park” hasn’t lost its subversive brilliance, with creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone happily pressing against the boundaries of what’s “appropriate” with such episodes as the very funny “Elementary School Musical,” which skewers the “High School Musical” franchise. Throughout, it’s the smart writing and the insight into childhood, whether parents want to face it or not, that saves this series from being just the crude venture some perceive it to be. Grade: B+

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and archive of movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Mondays, Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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