In Mike Leigh's latest, things are looking up.

All Right Now 

In Mike Leigh's latest, things are looking up.

The question "All right?" is asked repeatedly of every character throughout Mike Leigh's latest film, All or Nothing. In working-class London, it seems, it's the preferred substitute for "Hello" or "What's up?" That no one ever seems to answer the question in any meaningful way is at the heart of this portrait of three neighboring families in a low-income apartment block. No one's all right, but neither is anyone capable of reaching out to ask for help. "What's 'is face ... dignity" is how schlumpy minicab driver Phil (Timothy Spall) puts it, in a telling anecdote about an elderly man who hired the cab for only one block but insisted on paying the minimum fare. Pride is one thing, but no one here seems to remember the fall it precedes.

Phil, like many professional drivers, is an amateur philosopher, occasionally mumbling about "the fickle finger of fate" and summing up his general take on life as: "Tide comes in, tide goes out; you're born, you die, that's it." It's hardly a stretch to attribute a similar mindset to director Leigh, whose largely improvised films tend toward portraits of the downtrodden. Rarely does Leigh offer anything close to a transcendent ending, preferring to redeem his characters with the small joys of life. (It's no accident that the rare boisterousness of the Gilbert and Sullivan film Topsy Turvy garnered Leigh more mainstream notice than usual.)

Among the walking wounded are Phil's family. Penny (Lesley Manville) functions as his wife, though we learn that they never bothered to get married. She works at a grocery store, somehow managing to be the major breadwinner on a Safeway salary. Phil never gets up in time to corner the morning rush-hour crowd. Daughter Rachel (Alison Garland) has her mum's motivation and holds down a cleaning job at the old folks' home. Son Rory (James Corden), on the other hand, can either be found on the couch watching TV or passively kicking around a football, pausing occasionally to beat the living bejesus out of any poor fool who tries to join in.

It could almost be a setup for a sitcom. Normally, such a comparison would be a cutting put-down, but in Leigh's case it's actually a good thing. Given that he tends to be heavy on the violins (metaphorical and literal), it's a pleasure to note the occasional in-your-face irony. Phil's minicab company is named Gladiator Cabs, and Samantha sports a skimpy Harvard top. Rory calls the family dinner "shit," then bursts into a ridiculous, blustery rage because his mother finds that assessment offensive. One character's notion of foreplay is to vigorously poke at the bruise he gave his girlfriend during a previous encounter. A stereotypical French tourist (Kathryn Hunter) is played too broadly, but that's OK; experimenting with bigger laughs can only be a good thing in Mike Leigh's world.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Facebook Activity

All contents ©2014 Kansas City Pitch LLC
All rights reserved. No part of this service may be reproduced in any form without the express written permission of Kansas City Pitch LLC,
except that an individual may download and/or forward articles via email to a reasonable number of recipients for personal, non-commercial purposes.

All contents © 2012 SouthComm, Inc. 210 12th Ave S. Ste. 100, Nashville, TN 37203. (615) 244-7989.
All rights reserved. No part of this service may be reproduced in any form without the express written permission of SouthComm, Inc.
except that an individual may download and/or forward articles via email to a reasonable number of recipients for personal, non-commercial purposes.
Website powered by Foundation