After extended cameos in two previous Mike Leigh films (as a resourceful pop tart in All or Nothing and the date-raped rich girl in Vera Drake), fine-boned Sally Hawkins shoulders the burden of every scene as the most relentlessly upbeat 30-year-old kindergarten teacher ever to bicycle Londons chartered streets. The blithe spirit who animates Leighs Happy-Go-Lucky is a priestess of positive polarization; Poppys either irritating or endearingwhichever you find her, you have to wonder why. With her sharp features, toothy smile, and bright eyes, Hawkins has the creature cuteness of a Disney chipmunk. Her character is naturally friendly, pleased to make eye contact with strangers, an empathetic fount of jokey banter and playful innuendo. One ponders the mystery of Poppys personality, waiting for the meds to wear off. They never do. Even more than most of Leighs collectively developed films, Happy-Go-Lucky is a movie about an actors performance. But its also deeply concerned with the nature of pedagogy. Poppy not only teaches, she also learns, and her adult devotion to education and occasionally expressed childish desire to fly seem to herald a further stage of human development. Will this light-hearted creature fulfill her earthly mission? At the very least, the spectacle of Poppys all-around sunny disposish left this viewer feeling unaccountably happyat least for the moment.
Dec. 13-Jan. 8, 6:45 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 3, 1 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 4, 1 p.m., 2008