[1997. Directed by Mike Leigh. Cast: Katrin Cartlidge, Lynda Steadman, Kate Byers. October Films. 87 mins.] & fo Aristot Ie writes that f riends are two halves of a single soul. If this is so, Mike Leigh's latest film explores the dual sides of a particularty sensitive personality. His transparently named Career Gris does a fine job of exploring the notion of feminine friendship. When waif sh Annie (Lynda Steadman) signs up to share an undergraduate flat with energetic Hannah (Katrin Cartlidge) and roommate Claire (Kate Byers) in the late 1980s, she develops a lifelong friendship with Hannah. At the time they meet, Annie's devastatingly shy and Hannah's aggressively self-confident. Annie's attracted to Hannah's brashness and Hannah is protective of Annie's acute sensitivity. They help each other cope with the insecure half of their developing characters. Now neaiiy ten years later, both have thrived for having studied and partied together as undergraduates. Hannah picks Annie up at the train station for a weekend visit to London and they reminisce on their adventures as students while also looking for a flat for Hannah. Both women are confidently poised and ambitiously intelligent. Their brief reunión nearly a decade after they met gives each woman the chance to assess herself against the benchmark of her maturation. What Annie and Hannah find is a friendship that's as durable as any other relationship they've formed through the intervening years. Deceptively sweet, but exceedingly true. Yet stories with this slender a feminine thread typically also flounder on pathos. Witness, for example, George Cukof's misbegotten mash of Rich and Famous with Jacqueline Bisset and Can d i ce Bergen . With the exception of Margarethe von Trotta's frighteningly somber Marianne and Juliane, and Ridley Scott's equally defiant Thelma and Louise, the matter of feminine friendship hasn't been broached much in 1980s or 1990s cinema. All the better, then, that a cinematic psychologist on the level of Mike Leigh has crafted this story. Not as close to the bone as his extraordinary Naked, nor as tenderiy poignant as last year's Oscar nominated Secret and Lies, Career Girls instead tells a story that rings of profound truth. Leigh says finding a friend - an honest-togoodness real friend - is rarer than finding one else to care about over the course of a lifetime.AsHannah and Annie Ilústrate through the course of the film, finding a friend is far harderthan finding the amorous loose ends of one's love life. Ad ro i t ly jump-cutting between the women's student years and their current lives, Leigh delineates the subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle lessons the right friendship gives us. Annie has developed a stronger self-esteem and Hannah has had to soften a bit to cope emotionally with her affairs. Hannah and Annie's dialectic propels this nteraction from their meeting at the train station and reacquainting their culinary dislikes to reactingtotheunexpectedreappearanceofmalefriends and ex-lovers. And as with all important things in life, it's the insignificant events that ultimately loom as the most significant. Leigh accounts for every detail. He also has the fortune to work with two talented actresses who reveal themselves as multidimensional personalities. Neither performance comes across as a caricature; nor does either actress take a moment out of her characterization. Cartlidge's Hannah is more than a bit spiky at times and Steadman's Annie can be exasperatingly indecisive. Through his leisurely meandering of the pivotal events drawing Annie and Hannah together as youths - and then by contrasting these same issues against the self-knowledge of their maturity - Leigh uncovers the shadows of trust as only the best of friends would reveal them to one another. The best thing about Career Gris after its relatively brief duration is the fact that we've met two good people who are quite good friends. Neither Annie nor Hannah is without f autt, but they comprehend and appreciate their strengths and weaknesses. They care for each other simply as friends. Friendship, after all, isn't an easy obligation. It opens one up to relentless cross-examination. This sounds dreadful, but isn't it the point? Being ruthlessly truthful is what being a friend is about. It's with this guarded optimism that Leigh affirms the necessity of reaching beyond oneself. His Career Girls are very f riendly giris, indeed. BIG NIGHT [1995. Directed by Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott. Cast: Stanley Tucci, Tony Shaloub, lan Holm. Rysher EntertainmentColumbia-Tristar Home Video. 189 mins.] In a decidedly unsentimental business where every night has to be a big night, the Pilaggi brothers have their financial backs against the restaurant wall on the biggest night of their lives. Business is down - the rent is due - and time is running out. Secondo (Stanley Tucci) not only wants to survive; he very much wants to prosper. Older brother , Primo (Tony Shaloub), on the other hand, believes survival without principies is worth nothing at all. That's how it is as these two immigrants running a failing 1 950s Italian restaurant in New York City must decide when and how to make a final stand. Primo would rather go down knowing he's made a valiant attempt to serve the finest cuisine he can prepare with all the respect for tradition he can muster. Secondo - by far the more culturally assimilated - prefers compromiso to keep their eatery alive. Playing out this classical America story for all it' s worth, Stanley Tucci has crafted a deceptively ambitious personal triumph. He cowrote, co-directed, co-produced, and stars in Big Night. It's clearly a labor of love and he succeeds in the same way that prior cinematic gastronomic f easts such as Eat, Drink, Man, Woman; Babette 's Feast; and Like Water for Chocolate succeed. It'll be all you can do notto head straight forfine dining after the closing credits. Credit Julia Childs, but there's something ntrínsically delectable about watching fine cuisine cinematically prepared. The very crafting of Big Night's blue píate tímpano - a delicate píate of altemating meats and pasta topped with a pastry crust - reinf orces the f lm 's equally delicate story. Forthe Pilaggis' Paradise is slowly choking on its superiority. And while Primo remains oblivious in the kitchen crafting his menu the way an artist crafts a masterwork, Secondo is scurrying about trying to figure out a way to keep the place going. Finding his older brother's intransigence nearly nsurmountable, he hatches a plot with the help of rival restaurateur, Pascal (lan Holm), to bring the restaurant much needed publicity . Pascal promises to invite his. most famous client, jazz musician Louis Prima, to the Paradise for Primo's best. The resulting effort is supposed to culminate in the brothers' biggest night. And, if not their biggest night, then certainly their most memorable of nightly fights. Tucci's masteriy story cleverly weighs Primo's and Secondo's strengths and weaknesses with a light touch while also driving home the unhappy lesson of needing to be in the right place at the right time. Secondo must find his place in a new home that simply isn't interested in exotic cuisine. Just as Primo's remarkable sincerity is sadly out of step with more practical concerns. It's these m splaced and mishandled priorities that make Big Night a big deal. For if growing old gracefully is the hardest lesson life can teach us, then loving one's f ate has got to be the next most difficult task. How the Pilaggi brothers fare with their fate on the most decisive of their big nights is a deliciously bitters weet con f eet ion. RATING KEY ft Acting O Cinematography Direction &E Editing L Narrative Sound Special Effects When 8 smbo appears following a We, Í impWes fiaf (te corresponding category is a strength of the movie.
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