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For the most part, the British comedy-drama "Happy-Go-Lucky" lives up to its title.

It's so effervescent and chirpy, in fact, that you'd be hard-pressed to identify it as the work of filmmaker Mike Leigh, who's known for producing rather sullen, slice-of-life portraits of modern-day England, such as "Secrets & Lies" and "Vera Drake."

This is very different from either of those, though, even if the unfailingly positive mental outlook of the lead character eventually erodes. But that's a good thing, because otherwise she'd be completely insufferable.

The main character is Pauline "Poppy" Cross, played by Sally Hawkins. She's a primary school art teacher who's entering her 30s without having too many burdens or too many responsibilities.

Those around Poppy can't believe that and are envious of her ability to bounce back from any tragedy, no matter how big or small.

Still, if there's anyone who's going to put an end to her eternal optimism, it's Scott (Eddie Marsan), her new driving instructor. He's mean and demanding, though Poppy is convinced she can change him.

Screenwriter/director Leigh's latest is a little plot thin. Poppy basically goes from one episode to another, and — given those story and characters limitations — the whole thing feels too long.

But the toothy Hawkins does what she can to make us not want to murder her almost cartoonish character. And Marsan (last seen as the bad guy in "Hancock") is equally amusing and tragic as the tightly wound, socially awkward Scott.

It is a shame we don't know or learn more about Poppy's fellow teacher and roommate, Zoe (Alexis Zegerman), however. She's considerably less grating and seems more grounded and realistic.

"Happy-Go-Lucky" is rated R and contains some strong sexual language (profanity, vulgar slang and other suggestive talk), some brief violence (schoolyard bullying, as well as violence against women), a brief sex scene (mostly implied), some derogatory language and racial slurs, and brief drug references. Running time: 118 minutes.

E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com