By: Henry J. Fromage (Five Beers) –
British filmmaker Mike Leigh is a fixture at the Oscars any more.You can just about always count on him to get nominated for his writing, which is particularly interesting considering his methods.He sits down with his actors before he ever writes more than a scenario, and creates the characters with them.This usually pays off in amazingly nuanced performances, but sometimes the story, and our reason to care, gets lost along the way.
And has about as much of a chance to get back where it should be
This film opens with a social worker interviewing an obviously depressed and closed-off middle-aged housewife, played by Imelda Staunton.The camera doesn’t leave her face, and the depth of expression in just these five minutes or so is stunning.At this point, I was excited about what was to come.
I’ll get around to explaining why this all comes crashing down in a minute, but I first have to give a toast out of respect to the workmanship of the film.The lingering camera trick, akin to the technique documentarian Errol Morris uses to squeeze the utmost out of his subjects, does extract some impressive reactions from his performers, especially from Oscar-nominee Lesley Manville.Some of the shots, particularly in the Winter sequence when Leigh breaks out his blue filters, you could frame and throw up on your wall.
The film unfortunately chooses not to explore Staunton’s character, instead focusing on the therapist she is referred to, Gerri (Ruth Sheen).We’re soon introduced to her husband, Tom, played by Jim Broadbent.
Their relationship is a comfortably content one, which is contrasted starkly with their friends.Mary (Manville) is a manic, wine-bibbing former beauty who’s becoming desperate for a man.She obviously think Tom’s friend, Ken (Peter Wight), is unsuitable, which is no wonder because he’s a tragic slob who may be the only character more depressing than her.She has designs on Tom and Gerri’s son, Joe (Oliver Maltman), who is half her age.The most memorable scene is when she realizes what everyone else does already, that that’s not going to happen.
This deserves a beer mostly because is relentlessly depressing.It plays like 129 minutes of kittens in a dryer.
Speaking of running time; it is needlessly long.Some scenes just drag, particularly when the sad-sack friends get drunk and ramble about their loneliness.While I guess there was some reason to registering Tom and Gerri’s annoyed toleration of this, there’s no reason to lug the audience through so much of it.
Tom & Gerri are my main issue with this movie.Both of their friends are overpoweringly depressing, especially Mary in a particularly loud and needy way, but that doesn’t entirely excuse their behavior.They are superficially supportive, but in a smug and increasingly undercutting manner.Their passive-aggressive annoyance with her when she just shows up in their house late in the film tells you all you need to know.
In fact, there are no characters you’d ever want to know.Even Joe expresses his oblivious uncaring in an interview with an immigrant family he appears to be representing in some way, and the girlfriend he comes up with fits right in.That is, her entire presence consists of coy, insincere, and unfunny little jokes and affectations.
If you look at the evidence, Leigh obviously hates all of these people.This may just be a subtle send-up of social workers and the entire urbane London upper-middle class, in which case it’s genius.
This is the anti Happy-Go-Lucky, Leigh’s previous film.I didn’t really like that film’s overly cheerful characters, either, but at least they didn’t have you looking for your razor blades.Unless you really, really appreciate technically-proficient, soul-less acting by an aggressively unattractive cast, avoid.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a drink: every time Tom and Jerry do something snarky
Take a drink: whenever Mary does something hysterical
Drink a shot: when somebody turns out to be a decent human being