on 24 February 2001
I've got to say that Career Girls is my favourite Mike Leigh film. There's a positive feel to the production lacking in other work which features two young women, played by Lynda Steadman and Katrin Cartlidge who study at Polytechnic only to meet years later on. A magical set of events ensue when they renew old friendships over a weekend in a departure from the Director's usual naturalistic style. For anyone who's studied away from home this will bring back poignent memories. Tears, tantrums and the sheer individualism of young people are ably captured here by Mike Leigh. Hannah is a predictable femminist student, but my favourite character is Annie, incredibly shy, suffering from a skin complaint and often the butt of cruel jibes from her flatmate. When they re-unite alot of the insecurity has gone, yet neither have really moved on....... Both are still single with boring job, yet the beauty of the piece is the vivid depiction of ordinary students. It describes their lives through their loves, lies and heartbreaks, though there is a more sophisticated message here that coming from an ordinary background usually ensures an ordinary future. There is inherent criticism too of the characters failing to break out of their mundane lives and this is Leigh at his incisive best; not moralising or sentimentalising but being ruthlessly honest with his subjects and admitting that they can change their own lives. Wheras past projects are often flawed, Career Girls is a whole work of considered observation. It's characters more affluent and in control than in Bleak Moments and Nuts in May for instancen, but not as demanding as alot of the Leigh portfolio. Career Girls is a warm and genuinely comedic 83 minutes of viewing and I would strongly reccomend anyone out there to buy it, for no other reason than to sample Katrin Cartlidge's outstanding interpretation of a shy and stuttering eighties student.
on 9 March 2000
There is something missing from this gloomy film about two 30-year-old university friends who meet up again for a week-end ten years after having met. There are some very amusing, poignant and tender bits in this film but as an ensemble it lacks that bit of punch which is needed for this kind of reunion-based film. However, it is not at all sentimental or melodramatic thanks to writer and director Mike Leigh's sharp social observations and twist of tragedy which stops it from being the sort of film some of us find could perhaps find a little over-bearing (BEACHES, for example). Also, the characters are well-written displaying flaws and strengths which make them so human. There are good performances all round but I especially liked. Andy Serkis playing a drug-addict slob is terrific as is Mark Benton who plays their former flatmate.
In regards to the lack of sparkle, I think that that comes from Leigh's inclination to produce tragic dramas and his change of theme in this film takes some getting used to. But don't worry; if, like me, you are a Leigh fan then you won't be disappoited as his echoes of tragedy are still sharply apparent.
The more often I watched this film the more I grew to like it.
I've always found it interesting to think that Mike Leigh's 1997 film Career Girls is generally regarded as one of his more 'middling' works, and, sandwiched between Secrets and Lies and Topsy-Turvy as it is, and part of a film run which also included Life Is Sweet, Naked, All Or Nothing and Vera Drake, this oft-held view is perhaps not that surprising. However, every time I re-watch the film I become increasingly impressed (a trend which Mike Leigh himself predicted - or perhaps hoped for - in his book of published interviews with Amy Raphael). At the centre of Career Girls' intimate study of female friendship are two excellent acting performances, from the now sadly deceased Katrin Cartlidge, as the outwardly confident and brash Hannah, and from Lynda Steadman, as the shy and emotionally vulnerable Anna (Hannah is, for me, a slightly milder updating of Leigh's Johnny in Naked). In his time, Leigh has, of course, elicited numerous outstanding performances from some of Britain's greatest actresses (many of whom acknowledge their huge debt to him in the process), such as Alison Steadman, Lesley Manville, Brenda Blethyn, Ruth Sheen and Imelda Staunton, and Cartlidge and Steadman (no relation to Alison) admirably maintain this heritage in Career Girls.
Leigh's film charts Hannah and Annie's friendship via a parallel two-track narrative, one in the present as the two meet up again to rediscover themselves as the more mature career girls (albeit with their earlier traits still very evident) of the film's title, and the other (six years earlier) as they maintain a typical 'hand-to-mouth' student existence sharing a North London flat. Leigh accentuates the differences of mood and atmosphere of the two time periods by shooting the later story line using lush and airy colours (on 35mm), whilst the student flat (hand-held camera) footage is darker and grainier, giving this period a much rawer feel. As students, Hannah and Annie endlessly debate their attitudes to men, sex, femininity, parents (discovering they both became 'fatherless' at age 8) and the meaning of life (using Wuthering Heights as a random prediction device), all to an authentic bohemian backdrop of a stream of songs by The Cure, Smiths T-shirts and rock music posters (London Calling, Pin-Ups).
In addition to Leigh's two central performances, he cast (in one of the film's hilarious, standout sequences) Andy Serkis in a brilliant cameo role as a cocky, cockney city trader whose Isle Of Dogs high rise apartment Hannah and Annie visit as part of Hannah's flat-hunting exercise (during which Hannah sarcastically quips, 'On a clear day, you can see the class struggle from here'). But the other major acting turn here is that delivered by Mark Benton as Hannah and Annie's friend, Ricky, on the surface a fat, dishevelled, dysfunctional loser, who schizophrenically switches from harmless simpleton to malevolent (verbal) abuser - this is another brilliant, arguably OTT, Leigh creation in his long line of such creations like Nicola in Life Is Sweet, Johnny in Naked, Jason in All Or Nothing, Scott in Happy-Go-Lucky, etc, for which he has been frequently criticised, but which, for me, act as a key agent provocateur. The two reunion scenes between Ricky and Hannah/Annie (one in present day and one during their student period) are simply devastating and rank with other emotionally charged Leigh denouements in films such as Life Is Sweet, All Or Nothing, Secrets and Lies and Topsy-Turvy.
Overall, therefore, for me, Career Girls is not quite up there with Leigh's absolutely best work, but still has much to commend it.
on 9 February 2015
This is one of my favourite Mike Leigh films,it brings back bitter sweet memories of my own experience of University and maybe many other people's too. It's easy to look back on these days with rose coloured glasses when you get older, but Leigh's genius is to portray experience in it's raw form. Being away from home for the first time is terrifying and you have to learn to look after yourself. Career girls shows the fear,the loneliness we all feel when we leave the nest. Characters aren't good or bad, but mixed yet this film reminds me of the rawness of this stage in one's life. It isn't all parties or drinking and the thoughtful narrative of the film when the two girls look back at their time reminds you that student life is often happiness just out of reach, and that as you get older you never even get near to the exuberant hedonism you enjoyed so much. Career Girls is a careful study of pleasure and an exploration of its negative aspects, its maybe the only reason why student loans are a good thing, it shows that getting things for free can be a long lived curse, maybe over shadowing the rest of one's life.