This is a maddening little film. Just like the main character, Poppy (Sally Hawkins). I KNOW people like Poppy. I think everyone does. Sometimes I even adopt a Poppy-like attitude (for small increments of time). But why should I be maddened by someone who has chosen to enjoy life, savor life, be chipper all the time AND try to spread that attitude toward others? Isn't that perverse of me?
Poppy's seemingly superficial breezing through life isn't exactly that. She's a fantastic elementary school teacher, tries to help a troubled student and a homeless man. So what makes her annoying? When people don't respond to her cheeriness, she turns it up. The more uptight they are, the more footloose and fancy-free she becomes. Especially in the case of her driving instructor, Scott (the BAFTA-worthy Eddie Marsan). Scott is so livid at one point that he is spitting in his beard as he fumes. One could say that Scott got himself all worked up. But Poppy is the catalyst. She seems to enjoy pushing people to their limits in a detached way (can't you see he's getting upset?) That's what makes her annoying, and that's what makes this film very philosophical.
Poppy's philosophy IS "happy-go-lucky," and although no tragedy touches her in the movie beyond a stolen bike and a leaking bathroom, she faces everything with the same super-positivity. It's not that she doesn't care, it's that she's made the choice to smile and laugh and dance in the midst of everything. Her philosophy is put to the test only in little ways (the biggest being Scott's stalking her and eventually blowing up at her). But she is dead serious about being the ebullient person she has chosen to be (and probably is naturally). It seems that she truly wishes others were as free as she was, and by doggedly being herself tries to give them permission to join her perpetual happy hour.
This slice-of-life movie stuck with me as I wrestled with her neat little philosophy of life and tried to find loopholes. (So I guess it's a better movie than I originally thought it was.) However, Poppy does not have a character arc. There's no journey. Her encounter with Scott leaves them both the same. If she has a journey, it's either in the past or the future.
What's "wrong" with being happy ALL the time, having a one-note emotional palette? Couldn't it even be considered heroic? ("The Myth of Sisyphus" kept coming to mind.) Perhaps, but it just doesn't seem very human.