Unstructured, implausible, and irritating…
This one passed me by: I’m not familiar with much of Mike Leigh’s output, and if this is anything to judge it’ll stay that way.
I wasn’t able to divine any particular plot or character arc (no doubt cognoscenti will chide me that you’re not meant to with Leigh’s films), there were several drawn out and implausible scenes (including a completely random exchange between Poppy and an articulate tramp in an abandoned construction site at night) which seemed to serve no purpose at all, and characters and subplots (such as they were) came and went and coalesced only to die on the vine without explanation or deducible point. The one or two obvious set piece dialogue scenes felt artificial and weren’t persuasively acted, and the improvised bumbling around scenes that seem to be Leigh’s stock in trade were rarely funny, never profound, and often simply mediocre.
A sympathetic reviewer (and clearly there will be plenty – the cinema around me was hooting in the aisles from the opening titles) might attribute this to Leigh’s realistic, warts-and-all kitchen sink approach – which I might have accepted except that the main characters (the happy-go-lucky Poppy herself and bullied, only-child, fundamentalist, homophobic, racist, driving instructor Scott (yes — quite) were hardly Cinema Verite.
Ultimately your judgment about this film may depend largely on your reaction to Sally Hawkins’ performance as Poppy. She’s meant to be loveable, winsome and cute and, if this is your reaction, the film will wash over you and garland you with flowers. But if, as I did, you find her a giggling, wheezing moron it’ll be a long two hours.