Report from TIFF: [cross posted on the NYT forum; I wasn't sure if you folks still check there regularly]
All or Nothing
. Mike Leigh. (not
subtitled, but fortunately none were needed.)
After the glorious period work and music of Topsy Turvy
, Leigh returns to a bleak, contemporary, urban milieu. All or Nothing
is a look at the lives of several neighbours in a grey block of South London flats.
They're all - more or less - managing to get by financially: two of the men drive for the same taxi company, one woman works at the local Safeway, and one of the daughters is a cleaner at an old age home. However, their emotional lives are, for the most part, a study in barrenness. Penny Bassett (Leslie Manville) waits in impotent despair when her bullying, overweight teenaged son screams at her, while her husband Phil (Timothy Spall) says nothing to stop it. Phil himself is the very picture of a loser: shambling, stoop-shoulders, lank hair hanging over his face, - he has the dogged, hopeless demeanour of a man who only asks to be left alone. Two of their neighbours' daughters have the attentions of volatile, disturbed, and potentially violent men. Carol, another neighbour, is an alcoholic (in an ugly, grotesque performance far from Meg Ryan's in When a Man Loves a Woman
). Perhaps the only hopeful character is Maureen (Ruth Sheen), who seems capable, clear-headed, and remarkably cheerful despite life with a sullen teenaged daughter.
possible thematic spoilers
After a thoroughly depressing hour with these characters, Leigh then challenges us to empathise with them. - And amazingly, against all odds, somehow succeeds. Carol's daughter reaches a turning point in her life; A medical crisis in the Bassett household acts as a catalyst for a long-overdue confrontation, in which Penny and Phil, in a searing sequence of accusations, recriminations and regrets, ask themselves some painful and necessary questions.
Leigh manages to offer the possibility of grace and hope in their lives - offers it not as a facile, Hollywood-happy option, but arising organically from the characters and their situations.
The acting is superb: Manville and Spall are brilliant; and very ably supported by Sheen, among others. Especially for the first half, All Or Nothing
isn't the easiest film to sit through; but it's well worth meeting the challenges of this brave, honest, and ultimately moving film.
One postscript: Manville, Spall, and Leigh were all present for the screening and a Q and A; I managed to speak to them later to tell them how much I'd loved both this film and