Happy-Go-Lucky

British writer-director Mike Leigh’s new film combines broad-ranging allegory with intimate verite precision, and the results are exquisitely affirming. This practically plotless story was developed by Leigh’s traditional means of collective cast improvisation, and it may require a brief, uneasy moment of acclimation, but that’s mostly because Leigh’s vision is so singularly, uncompromisingly compassionate. The essential performances are Sally Hawkins’ giggly, resolutely good-natured North London schoolteacher and Eddie Marsan’s repressed and evidently miserable driving instructor, whose intensely confused rapport with her flares up into a devastating emotional battle. At first, in opposite ways, they both seem too emotionally stunted to cope with the world as it actually is: abundant with joy but rarely safe for it. The beauty of the movie is the transcendence it allows them, however painfully, to find together.