Rated NR

An interesting experiment from filmmaker Mike Leigh. Using the musical and cinematographic conventions of midcentury romantic comedies, Leigh creates a very modern, naturalistic piece. The unnatural exception is Sally Hawkins as Poppy Cross, a relentlessly, almost pathologically happy young woman who laughs at crippling back pain and giggles while being berated. She is not naively or innocently happy, and in a few tense encounters, the film explores the possibility that emotional depth and aesthetic merit are not confined to those who are anguished. While essentially episodic and plotless, the film includes several mini-stories, the best of which focuses on Poppy’s lessons with Scott the driving instructor (Eddie Marsan). He’s a paranoid, self-righteous conspiracy theorist who hates immigrants and women, and responds to virtually all aspects of life with anger and elaborate rationalizations. Poppy finds this hilarious, which leads to an unexpected and powerful climax. Meanwhile, life and love, etc., happen, but without the standardized trappings and neat narrative cohesion that make other movies watchable, predictable and unreal. That Leigh can avoid most of the obligatory elements of plot while still making a compelling film is testament to his skill.

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