It is time to break out the thesaurus for Mike Leigh’s blithe new comedy. It is not just eponymously happy, but also joyous, joyful, cheerful, life-affirming and feelgood, as well as being his finest and funniest film to date. And it is blessed with an unforgettable, deservedly award-winning performance by Sally Hawkins as Poppy, a kooky young primary-school teacher.
Leigh is not preoccupied with plot here. No matter. Instead, he offers a wonderfully observed, constantly entertaining slice of life as it follows free-spirited Poppy, introduced riding her bicycle through London with a radiant, spirit-raising smile that instantly raises your spirits.
The bike is stolen after her comical encounter with a morose bookseller, but she refuses to be disheartened. After commenting wistfully: “I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye,” she gets on with making bird costumes for her pupils and enjoying nights out with flatmate Zoë (Alexis Zegerman).
In what is Leigh’s funniest sequence since the unforgettable rehearsal scene in Topsy Turvy, Poppy accompanies a colleague to flamenco lessons run by a droll Spanish instructor (Karina Fernandez), whose breakdown when she admits she was cuckolded by a “Swedish bitch” is a tour-de-force.
Poppy’s driving lessons with hectoring, uptight Scott (a landmark performance by Eddie Marsan) are hilarious, and, Scott’s obsession with his pupil forms a major and believably moving narrative strand.
It would be all too easy to heap praise on Leigh for his acute characterisation, crackling dialogue and perfect casting. Easy, but nonetheless appropriate.