Career Girls

Memphis Flyer

DIRECTED BY: Mike Leigh

REVIEWED: 09-15-97

Fans of last year's Secrets and Lies may have thought they had discovered a new auteur in director Mike Leigh, a social commentator with a deft touch for finely drawn characters and the legendary understated British humor. Leigh, however, has actually been cranking out brilliant, quirky, yet keenly observed comedies and dramas in England for more than 20 years, first on British television and lately for the big screen, as in his other theatrical releases Naked, Life Is Sweet, and High Hopes.

His latest, Career Girls, is a worthy addition to his oeuvre. A film at various times about friendship, family, work, adolescence, maturation, love, work, and Thatcher-era despondency, its artistry lies in the way Leigh subtly provokes ideas in the viewers' heads without outright stating them.

The slight story concerns the weekend-long reunion of two college flatmates, Hannah (Katrin Cartlidge) and Annie (Lynda Steadman). The two haven't seen each other in six years, and in the film's opening moments, as the pair struggle uneasily to reestablish their bond, Leigh's editing and the performances of Cartlidge and Steadman combine to create a nervous tension that is as uncomfortable to watch as such moments are to experience.

As the film unravels, however, the two women rediscover the qualities in each other that made such different types the best of friends.

Through flashbacks, we see that during college Annie is the painfully sensitive one. Scarred through most of her adolescence by an unsightly skin condition, Annie is socially awkward and openly neurotic, constantly hanging her head down low to avoid the stares of others.

Hannah, on the other hand, is tough as leather, hardened by life with her alcoholic mother and almost incapable of love. But something in the overly vulnerable Annie brings out her protective instincts.

Though this central relationship is a bit obvious, Leigh's writing keeps the work a float.

As Hannah and Annie go through their weekend together, the film flashes back to their college years, sparked in part by their encounters with a number of people from their shared past: a boorish lover that Hannah gave to Annie when she fell for him, a mildly-retarded suitor of Annie's, and even the third flatmate they dumped after their first year in college.

Besides chronicling the pair's friendship from its neurotic beginning to their goodbyes at the end of college, the flashbacks help tell the tale of perhaps that most pivotal point in a person's life: those trepid years between the horrors of adolescence and the empowering confidence of young adulthood. And in showing Hannah and Annie as they enter this stage and at the end of it, Cartlidge and Steadman deliver performances that are consistent and wonderfully contrast their characters' youthful selves with their self-assured adult personas.

Of course, the older Hannah and Annie are far from complete adults. Hannah still struggles with her inability to be intimate. Annie hasn't yet fully established herself as a completely independent adult. And both are less than thrilled with their middle-class, uninvolving jobs. But perhaps because of what they learned from each other, these girls are off to promising careers.

--Mark Jordan

Full Length Reviews
Career Girls
Career Girls

Capsule Reviews
Career Girls

Other Films by Mike Leigh
Secrets & Lies

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