I spent the entirety of Happy-Go-Lucky waiting for the other shoe to drop, for Poppy’s jubilance to be exposed as a facade, for the tension and conflict I’ve come to expect from a Mike Leigh film bubble to the surface. It never happened and that’s wonderful.
I started out my Leigh binge with “High Hopes”, which i thought clearly condemned the middle class sister and her husband. As you can tell from my review of this film there, I wasn’t as much of a fan of this.
I’m pretty sure Poppy jokes because she likes to, not to change anyone. She’s with Scott just to learn to drive, not to help him.
I found the Green Book comparison odd. There are basically no nonwhite characters in this film, and while I haven’t seen Green Book my impression was that Vallelonga was mostly uncouth rather than vile.
I found Poppy far less funny than she believes herself to be. An ordinary person who perceives that other people aren’t enjoying their jokes will ease up, but she’s one of those annoying people who just doesn’t care if she’s being an annoyance.
I agree with Ebert that the incident with the homeless man seemed just par for the course rather than representing a turning point for her. I get the impression that you wanted there to be character development so you’re interpreting the scene with that lens, but I think a viewer who didn’t start off with that assumption wouldn’t come to that conclusion. Leigh thinks she’s basically perfect from the jump, so she doesn’t need to change. It’s her sister in the suburbs who encourages her to change, and is thus painted as a killjoy stick-in-the-mud.