Movie Review: Career Girls

© 1997 Dan Heller

Quick Review: Overrated Art Movie (tm) you can miss.

Synopsis: Annie visits her old college roommate Hannah, whom she hasn't seen since graduating from university six years ago. The reunion is interspliced with flashbacks to the late-'80s, where we see how their relationship developed.

Review: Director Mike Leigh's signature style is to take real life characters, put them in real life situations, and let human emotion take its course. And, in this case, the movie attempts to explore the unintended relationship that evolves between two women who would seem otherwise incompatible, by following their lives in the late 1980s and the effects they eventually have on one another. We are given that they are not only lifelong friends, but they learn will about themselves, life in general, and will eventually come to terms with their respective dysfunctions.

Unfortunately, he wasn't quite able to pull it off this time, mostly because the characters were too odd for most of us to identify with and there wasn't enough depth to their backgrounds, which gave very little meaning to anything they did or will do. The nails were driven into the movie's coffin when the lack of follow-through or resolution on any subject weighed heavy on the ending.

Every single character in the movie is extraordinarily dysfunctional, but we aren't given any background for this, except for passive comments about how "mum's an alcoholic." Cliche, to be sure, so not substantial enough for us to blindly accept. Odd characters are interesting if we can either identify with them, or we can understand and appreciate why they are odd in the first place. Since we have no basis to care about the characters, their actions are meaningless to us as observers. If they are ever going to learn to deal with their dysfunctions or other difficulties in life, then we need context to appreciate the events that unfold during the film. How they deal with and come to terms with such problems is the make-or-break point. But none of this happens: no one learns anything and no conclusions are ever drawn. There is a short restaurant scene about how they recognize their own problems and how they mutually admire one another's characteristics, but these are very rudimentary observations one learns in Psych 101. Disappointed, the observer learns that we really aren't getting anywhere. (It was probably intentional that Annie found her first love in a sophmore Psychology class in the flashbacks of her life.)

In short, all observations, commentaries and criticisms about "life" are so basic and obvious that you get the feeling that they are setting the groundwork to say something unique, interesting or perhaps inspirational next. Doesn't happen.

The closest event that might have done this was where Anni and Hannah decide to go look at houses/flats for sale in London, even though they have no intention to actually buy anything. Ooookaayyy... that'd be fine if the movie actually did something with this sequence, but nothing comes of it at all. Nothing is revealed about their characters, it doesn't contribute to the plot, nor do they learning anything about themselves or each other. They do run into an old lover (of both of them) who doesn't recognize either of them, but such a meeting could have taken place in any context; the fact that they had to set up such a long sequence of [non-funny] house-hunting to accomplish that felt like a lot of [my] time was wasted. We learn that their relationship with this guy helped shape their views of men, but again, very little is learned and observations are immature.

If the intent of this movie was to merely present a character study of a funny relationship between two women, they shouldn't have tried so hard to present us with events that would seem to give them opportunities to solve their own problems, albeit unsuccessfully.

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