the REAL sex & the city

I just came from seeing Happy Go Lucky, the latest from British director Mike Leigh. And while I was watching it I couldn’t help thinking, “This is the movie Sex & the City should have been.” Okay, so they were absolutely two different things: a big-screen spinoff of thirty-something chicks living the high life in New York, scripted within an inch of its life (although you’d never know it from the script) and with a budget that could keep a woman’s shelter in business for a decade. Happy Go Lucky, on the other hand, is a low-budget, semi-improvised (I’m guessing, only because that’s the way he usually works), low-key indie about 20-something women getting by in modern London. But the movie is so true to its characters and single life–and I emphasize “single” here–that it leaves the Sex & the City movie’s heels stuck in a sewer grating.

Sally Hawkins plays Poppy, an elementary school teacher living with her friend/flatmate on the outskirts of London. The plot, such as it is, involves Poppy learning to drive. But, as in most of Leigh’s movies, this decision–which follows the theft of Poppy’s bike–is simply an opportunity to get to know the characters. Not just Poppy, but Scott, her very angry driving instructor; Suzy, her sullen sister; and a few others who inhabit her daily life. It’s marvelous to watch Hawkins, with her expressive, Shelly Duvall-like eyes and animated face, and impossible not to fall a little bit in love with the self-deprecating, life-loving Poppy. Without giving too much away, Happy Go Lucky has lots to say about being single, and falling in love. To paraphrase a quote from a critic that appears on the poster: “I left feeling deliriously happy.” You will, too.

Interestingly (or not), it’s the first matinee I’ve been to on my own in ages. I’d forgotten how much I loved matinees, though these days I don’t get out as much. The Texas Twister isn’t much of a movie-goer (unless it’s An American Tail). But, already intrigued as I was by the publicity pic of Hawkins smiling as Polly, looking like an access-cable weathergirl as she stands in front of a map of the world, I had to see it as soon as it opened. Also, I’ve never a movie by Leigh (Secrets & Lies, Naked, Career Girls) I haven’t liked, since the first one I saw: Life is Sweet, probably about 20-plus years ago.

See Happy Go Lucky; see it with a friend. And, if you’re a woman who maybe didn’t feel completely satisfied by the bloated Sex & the City flick, see it with a few girlfriends. This is a move that really is worth its weight in Blahniks.

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