The Austin Chronicle

Career Girls

Rated R, 90 min. Directed by Mike Leigh. Starring Katrin Cartlidge, Lynda Steadman, Kate Byars, Mark Benton, Andy Serkis, Joe Tucker.

REVIEWED By Robert Faires, Fri., Aug. 22, 1997

Time makes different people of us all. One day, our faces are fresh and unlined; the next, they bear the folds and creases added to them by Time. Time alters our dress, our manners, our tastes, often so dramatically that we are unrecognizable next to our younger selves. In this new film by writer-director Mike Leigh (Secrets & Lies), Time's alchemy is brought to bear on two old friends who reunite for a weekend in London. Six years have passed since the two, Annie and Hannah, last saw each other, but that time might have been an eon given the changes it's worked in the pair. Gone is Hannah's stringy, unkempt hair from their days at University, her racing, slashing speech, her seething rage. Gone is the bleached New Wave 'do Annie wore when they shared a dingy walkup over a Chinese takeout stand in the Eighties; gone are her anxious, darting eyes, her wrenching insecurity. In their place are the cultivated looks and poise of two successful working women of the Nineties. The film is their journey of discovery, the search for what is left of the young women who were friends six long years ago, for what, if anything, is left of their friendship. As he's done to great effect in previous films, Leigh takes a fragment of common experience and focuses his lens on it, shooting it in extreme close-up so that it may be seen for all its layers and textures and subtleties in the play of light and shadow. Here, friendship is shown as a complex bonding of personalities, a union cemented as much by the friends' differences as similarities, by betrayals as well as fidelity. We come to see this because Leigh allows us the time to study these women. His camera lingers over their faces, waiting for the full play of emotion to wash over them. And an abundance of feeling plays across the faces of his two leads; Cartlidge and Steadman bring to light every flicker of awkwardness, indecision, anger, regret, joy, admiration, and affection felt by Hannah and Annie. Cartlidge is a marvel as the quicksilver Hannah, her fury and wit unleashed with the vicious speed and bite of a whip. Steadman is more subdued, but when she shows us the elder Annie recalling the past, her countenance is a thing of wonder -- a pool of serenity, over which pass ripples of compassion and tenderness. These actors ground the film and keep us in its corner, even when Hannah and Annie rather conveniently keep running into key figures from their past. It feels as though Leigh is forcing his hand with these coincidental meetings, and yet, obvious as they are, they reinforce the bonds between the two and how they've grown because of their friendship. In this, Career Girls offers a rare form of comfort, an assurance that we matter in the lives of others and that the difference we make can endure even the great changes wrought by Time.

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