Sally Hawkins gives a Golden Globe winning performance as Poppy, the most optimistic character to appear on screen since probably Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers' original character of Inspector Jacques Clouseau. I say this because Clouseau and Poppy are both characters where no matter how ridiculous and awkward a shenanigan may occur... they get right back up and act as if nothing is going wrong. The simple fact that both characters hardly realize that their perseverance and energy is pretty absurd is completely beside the point. As just said, literally bouncing back from any conflict is commendable enough.
Unlike Clouseau though, Poppy is a lot less naive about the world and more in tune with friends despite the fact that many are disgusted or numb to her sunny disposition. In one example, Poppy decides to seriously (but not too seriously) partake in driving lessons. Problem is that her instructor, Scott, is a complete mess (played to a wonderfully abrasive beat and rhythm by Eddie Marsan) and perceives Poppy as horrendously overconfident and strangely compelling at the same time. The only reason Poppy is doing this is because she lost her bicycle, but for her this is just another adventure with a great villain being the backseat driver. Poppy also joins one of her basic school cohorts (this is in England by the way) in Flamenco dancing, which is taught by a bombastic and melodramatic Spanish woman (hilariously played by Karina Fernandez) who likes to reference her daily woes in her instruction. Since Poppy is a schoolteacher, it is interesting to see that two of her antagonists so far are also teachers with a far darker disposition than her. Poppy is not without those who understand her, which include Zoe, her roommate and partner, and a school associate, Tim (played with alarming normalcy by Samuel Roukin). Alongside Poppy, his behavior is very obviously the norm, but yet he somehow relates to Poppy's glee much like Clouseau's love-of-his-life Maria Gambrelli (in 1964's A Shot in the Dark) relates to his limitless compassion. Poppy's life is not without its downs though, which is the point to the film ultimately.
Sometimes the most optimistic of us gets a little sadden from time to time, and when you see it happen to Poppy, oh boy, the emphasis of it is absolutely startling even at its most subtle level. When she sees one of her students beating up another boy, her smile slowly turns upside down and she quickly sends Tim to investigate the boy's constant anger. Probably the most unusual of moments occurs when Poppy encounters a strange, half-crazed homeless man. Poppy is obviously looking for an answer to something and the man ALMOST spells one out, but at the same time, we as an audience, are wondering if this vagrant has any ulterior motives. We start to fear for Poppy whenever this happens, and it certainly leads to an unforgettable climax in the drama. However, Poppy still remains as the brightest thing in the entire movie, always wearing bizarre loud colors, while still maintaining an innocence and sexuality at the same time. Poppy's bleaker sister is eventually introduced in the film and the differences in personalities are actually surprising since most siblings tend to exhibit similar behaviors if they are close. It is very apparent that Poppy wants to be close with everyone, but not everyone is willing to open up. Their loss though as Poppy may be one of the most effective teachers there is. There's wisdom in choosing to be happy.