Career Girls Mike Leigh

This minor Mike Leigh effort got the bum's rush when it opened in '97, but it's got plenty to offer the attentive viewer. Jumping back and forth in chronology, it follows the story of shy Cure fan Hannah (Lynda Steadman) and take-no-prisoners Annie (the late, great Katrin Cartlidge), old university flatmates meeting again after a lengthy absence. Now they're semi-successful career women, but as they reminisce the film flashes back to their college days when fights were plentiful and wounds were constantly being opened. There's one too many coincidences as the two conveniently bump into people from their pasts; worse, Leigh over-directs certain actors into tic orgies, with Steadman going overboard as her younger eczema-afflicted self and a third, mentally unstable roomie (Mike Benton) going straight over the top. But overlook that and the drama is solid, if low-key, for the director. It may not be the kick in the teeth that's Naked or have the flamboyant melodrama of Secrets and Lies, but it's a lovely evocation of missed chances and character flaws: both women wish they were the other and neither can escape the personal quirks that keep them doing the same things to sabotage themselves. Trainspotters should note that Andy Serkis — Gollum himself — plays a lascivious man leasing an apartment, but there's more on offer here than that: Cartlidge nails her dilettante undergraduate with a powerhouse performance, and the writing is remarkably respectful to its damaged protagonists. Leigh completists may want it most, but casual filmgoers will get just as much out of its well-wrought pathos and gentle sympathy for damaged goods. (Fox)