Career Girls

on August 08, 1997 by Christine James
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Writer/director Mike Leigh has once again assembled an amazing cast to render a spectrum of human emotions beyond the range of most filmmakers' reach. Lynda Steadman is the wispy-voiced, quavery, anxiety-ridden Annie (reminiscent of Brenda Blethyn's character in Leigh's "Secrets & Lies"), and Katrin Cartlidge (a Leigh vet from "Naked") is unforgettable as Hannah, an intensely idiosyncratic character who's sharp-tongued, sharp-witted, sharp-angled, and indomitably good-humored, though with a psychotic tinge.
The film begins with Annie embarking on a trip to visit Hannah, whom she hasn't seen since graduating from university six years ago. The reunion is interspliced with flashbacks to the late-'80s (well- depicted with appropriate costuming and music), when the pair first met as college freshmen. Fragile Annie, who then suffered from stress- related facial dermatitis and a resultant low self-esteem, nervously answers an ad for a roommate. Despite the off-puttingly aggressive and bizarre demeanors of her potential roomies, Hannah and Claire (Kate Byers), she moves in. Their collegiate adventures continue to be chronicled in a linear fashion while the current-day timeline also proceeds forward during Annie's brief visit.
Leigh is a master at capturing oblique layers of complex emotion, particularly insecurity and the discomfort of feeling out-of-place. Annie and Hannah, both of whom have mellowed and matured in the intervening decade, are glad to see each other, but there is a palpable yet subtle awkwardness, owing to the rift of time since they've seen one another, as well as to their disparate natures, which ade their friendship an unlikely one in the first place. All this is artfully conveyed, with Leigh never having to articulate these sentiments with words.
The two women soon begin to recapture the closeness they developed years before as they spend a day traveling through London househunting for Hannah. On their trek, they coincidentally--or synchronistically--encounter key figures from their past. The story neatly unravels to show how these people have affected Hannah and Annie's lives, then and now.
Like much of Leigh's work, "Career Girls" is an unflinching look at the lives of lonely, alienated but everyday (if notably eccentric) people that evolves upliftingly from despair to hope, buoyed throughout with clever humor. Cartlidge and Steadman accomplish Leigh's vision with incredible, spot-on portrayals of the compellingly unique protagonists. Starring Katrin Cartlidge and Lynda Steadman. Directed and written by Mike Leigh. Produced by Simon Channing-Williams. An October release. Comedy/drama. Rated R for language and some sexuality. Running time: 91 min. Opens 8/8 NY/LA, 8/15 national
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