Mike Leigh's deceptively titled "Career Girls" might lull you into believing it to be easy viewing, with a sweet and fairly simple mainstream plot, but this ridiculously overlooked film has more layers than your average puff pastry.
Granted, there are some contrived moments and a bit of overacting here and there, but they greatly help us in exploring the relationship between central characters Hannah (Katrin Cartlidge) and Annie (Lynda Steadman) - former room mates from college six years ago. Having settled reasonably into their professional lives, they meet again over a weekend in London, and their past story is retold using intermittent flashbacks. When Annie first met Hannah in answer to an ad calling for a room mate with g.s.o.h, little did she know that she'd really need one - Hannah was a tense young woman with a lot of pent-up rage, whose searing - almost abrasive quick-witted remarks would put people off from even approaching her. Annie herself was hopelessly insecure, with a constant twitch and a crusty dermatitis-afflicted skin covering half her face. Ever submissive, her head slanted away from people in desperation to avoid eye contact. And yet, they stuck it out for four years in their grungy apartment on top of the Chinese takeaway.
Gone now are Annie's twitches - a lot more self assured, she's also devoid of any signs of her past skin affliction. Sharply dressed Hannah too is a pleasant departure from her younger unkempt self. A whole lot more calmer, she's also mindful of other people's feelings these days. But their reunion starts off rather awkwardly, with forced small talk and uneasy silences in between. The chillness in the air departs after Annie accompanies Hannah on an adventure across town with the ruse to view properties for sale. They meet characters from their past who sometimes even fail to recognise them, and as much as they bring back memories, they will also distinguish people who've made it from those who fell by the wayside. It becomes clear that while Hannah and Annie may have not kept in touch all these years, they'd invariably influenced each other without them noticing - and that they'll always share a unique bond - a deep trust, and acceptance of each other as they are, that neither time nor distance will diminish. In meeting up, they had just strengthened that valuable and life-affirming bond...
As with any Mike Leigh film, it's not the message, but the route it takes to be delivered that matters. The characterisation is what makes this film so special, and the sensational performance by late Katrin Cartlidge as Hannah, and the endearing portrayal of Annie by Lynda Steadman (making her film-début) combine to make this an engrossing character study on people and friendship. The dialogues, replete with highly inventive and sharp-witted one-liners, may not leave us in fits of giggles, but will help us swallow some bitter truths, and appreciate what we've so far achieved despite falling short of our own expectations. This reflective and woefully underrated Mike Leigh classic is Highly Recommended Viewing..!
Amazon DVD Link [PAL]
The Nudity: Katrin Cartlidge
The few seconds of a topless Katrin Cartlidge gives me an excuse to write about the film. Not often have I wished a film had lasted a bit longer - this one did, engaging us even if nothing much happens in it. The aforementioned scene occurs after Hannah has sex with a lazy, skirt-chasing, and obviously handsome Adrian (Joe Tucker) - one that Annie too fancies.