Whenever Eddie Marsan appears onscreen in "Happy-Go-Lucky," I can't take my eyes off his mouth. His character, Scott, an enraged driving instructor, is the antithesis of Poppy (Sally Hawkins), the film's sunny protagonist, who makes the mistake of hiring him. His "instruction" is really just a stream of bigotry and paranoia toward the world beyond his dashboard. Hawkins is free to express Poppy's joie de vivre through physicality—bouncing on a trampoline, dancing flamenco—but in most of his scenes, Marsan is strapped into his seat.
Lucky for him, he has that mouth. Marsan's bristly facial hair camouflages his lips, turning his mouth into a prickly hedge where small animals might disappear. When he gets worked up, droplets of spit fly like toxic backwash. And then there are his teeth: recessed, crooked, desperately needing a scrub. But his mouth is also the gateway to his humanity. Watching him bite off details about his grim life, you sense what an ordeal it must be for him to smile for a picture. Who could ever kiss those sour lips? Poppy, so intent on seeing the good in people, would be a nitwit without the ballast of Scott. When the Oscar nominations came out, both actors' performances were overlooked. Don't repeat the mistake. Their anti-chemistry makes the film.