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Arts & Entertainment

‘Career Girls’ Emotional, Humorous

Fri., Aug. 29, 1997, midnight

“Career Girls” is Mike Leigh lite.

Coming off the much-lauded, emotionally taut “Secrets & Lies,” the acclaimed filmmaker cleanses the artistic palate with another tale of two women, only this time the seemingly slight story - about two former roommates who are reunited six years later - generates more laughter than tears.

But while humor abounds, the reflective piece nevertheless carries an emotional heft that tends to sneak up on the viewer after the fact. It’s a testament to Leigh’s tremendous skills as a storyteller and the splendid performances of his leads, Katrin Cartlidge (“Breaking the Waves”) and newcomer Lynda Steadman.

While it’s not the kind of material that generates Oscar buzz, and those thick accents can at times be challenging to North American ears, “Career Girls” should still make a decent living at the box office given Leigh’s considerable following.

The flashback-heavy picture focuses on Hannah (Cartlidge) and Annie (Steadman), two 30-year-old reformed misfits who once shared a London flat in the mid-‘80s. Both appear to have come a long way from those post-adolescent days when Hannah was one big nervous tic and Annie had a blotchy skin disorder that made her feel and act like a social outcast.

When Annie accepts an invitation to visit Hannah six years later, the women have blossomed into tic-free, blotch-free, well-adjusted adults with good jobs and strong values.

In time, however, as the distance of those years apart begins to evaporate over a cup of tea, the old dynamics come back into play, and the friends’ reflection of their shared past ultimately says a lot about who we are and how much we actually change.

Leigh certainly takes a couple of risks here. The wall-to-wall flashbacks, which in most cases would distract from the central story, may be a little jarring at first but ultimately succeed because they serve as an integral part of that story. In other instances, including one flashback sequence in which the two women and Annie’s homely, stuttering friend Ricky (Mark Benton) argue at a pub, the dueling, twitchy assortment of behavioral spasms treads a fine line between parody and pathos.

Cinematographer Dick Pope does an effective job in using composition and distance to reflect the characters’ shifting emotional states. So does the sparse but soulful original score composed by “Secrets & Lies” actress Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Tony Remy, which shares the soundtrack with several songs by the Cure.

xxxx 1. “Career Girls” Location: Lincoln Heights Credits: Directed by Mike Leigh, starring Katrin Cartlidge, Lynda Steadman, Kate Byers, Mark Benton, Andy Serkis, Joe Tucker, Margo Stanley, Michael Healy Running time: 1:27 Rating: R

2. Other views Here’s what other critics say about “Career Girls:” Eric Brace/The Washington Post: What a perfect little gem of a movie Mike Leigh has made. Again. Jay Carr/The Boston Globe: “Career Girls” finds Mike Leigh working on a smaller canvas than usual, but one no less intense than his other confrontational relationship films. Steven Rea/Philadelphia Inquirer: “Career Girls” doesn’t have the sweep of “Secrets & Lies,” nor the venom of “Naked.” But in the small world it keenly describes, the film packs an emotional punch - silly voices and all. Stephen Whitty/San Jose Mercury News: “Career Girls” is a small and sweet film, and the mellowest yet from one of Britain’s angriest middle-age men. Its charms are slight, and slow to reveal themselves. The dramatics are quiet, and related largely in flashback. Unfortunately, that makes this film almost bound to disappoint Leigh fans looking for a new “Secrets & Lies.” Henry Sheehan/The Orange County Register: After the anguish and intensity of “Naked” and “Secrets & Lies,” filmmaker Mike Leigh eases up in his latest, “Career Girls.”

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