I quite enjoy re-playing Mike Leigh's older films, this time reviewing them and admittedly, Career Girls was far from being my (or, it seems, most other people's) first choice.
I'd recorded mine from Film4's broadcast, just before the release of his latest 'Another Year' the advantage being Mr Leigh introduced it himself and said that it was often overlooked and he wasn't quite sure why. I had seen it myself on a couple of occasions before, most probably on the same channel and always quite liked it. It's not my favourite but always found it better once fully immersed.
Is that because I'm a bloke, who never went to Uni and never had to flat-share, but there again, the 80s and 90s were formative years for me too.
Anyway, as is usual with almost Leigh films, the opening few minutes always seem to have annoying characters that we really rather not share any time with, doing their best (worst?) to put us off. However, once we get used to them and their strange, odd ways, they become part of our screen lives and as if they were people we actually know, we put up with their annoying aspects and revel in their good, Leigh's folk are very human, almost TOO much so.
So, Leigh's purpose was to show how passages of time, circumstance and education, plus friendship can follow in both predictive and unpredicted ways with the reunion of two Uni classmates ten years later, with frequent, but obvious, flashbacks to the student years, we can see how people can change. Side by side, the contrasts are very marked, almost too much so, but as we usually witness our friends forming slowly, year by year, who's to say that Leigh is not right?
There's a smaller pool of main characters than with the better Leighs, and as with say, the later but even less good Happy Go Lucky, there is less respite from the obnoxious and smaller variety in which to spice up the story.
Oddly, considering it's the female lead characters that Leigh is championing it's the two male leads that we see regularly on TV and cinema screen these days - Mark Benton as the twitchy, overweight Goth who gets to know them in student digs but always finds solace and comfort in food instead of confronting fears, including women; these two women. And Andy Serkis, who Leigh says he made as an opposite to Benton's sweet nature as possible and in Serkis, we have a 'disgusting pig' as Leigh refers to him. Both chauvinist and arrogant he could be seen as the ultimate product of the Thatcherite Yuppie years and again, typically Leigh, he doesn't portray this subtly and quite rightly, we want to leave his company as quickly as possible but perhaps more importantly, want our 'girls' to, as well. There are lots of comedic takes on Serkis' lifestyle 'choices' and this does lighten the emotional load.
The two female leads, Katrin Cartlidge and Lynda Steadman though do not seem to be gracing our screens at all right now, though Cartlidge did feature in Leigh's Topsy Turvy (1999) and previously in the excellent Naked(Leigh's best film, probably) from 1993. Steadman seemed to have been in TV dramas about then but - all according to IMDb - nothing since 2003.
Maybe Mike Leigh has made too much out of political and economic markers to make us really care for any of the people here. Yes, they're engaging with their character traits and whilst we sort of feel a part of their world, albeit briefly, we don't necessarily want to be. However, there are some nice down to earth and more reflective moments, they are just a bit too far between to be make the film totally enjoyable.