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Career girls opens with a train journey towards London's Kings Cross where Annie, one of the major characters is about to meet her old university friend Hannah. She recalls moving into a grotty student flat with Hannah in the mid-eighties. In those days Annie was self conscious and jumpy. The pair have not seen one another since graduation. They both now have moderately successful careers and are, at least on the surface, self assured in their new lives. However, they are still carrying a lot of emotional baggage from their university days. During the course of a weekend they rediscover their close friendship and encounter many faces from the past. Written by
Minor Leigh, but a pleasant little tale about nostalgia and the power of the memories of the people and places that helped forge you.
After the brilliant, inherent bleakness of 1993's Naked and the burning, wrenching turmoil of his subsequent film Secrets & Lies; Leigh's shift downwards into a lower gear for that of Career Girls, a dotty; whimsical; fluffy-of-sorts dialogue driven minimalist exercise, is at once a tonic and a head-scratching piece providing two distinct strands as well as one overlying friendship between two female characters. After the night set, pounding bleakness of something like Naked, Career Girls is the morning after a desire for everything to remain quiet and somewhat subdued; a film with people, more often than not, inhabiting cleaner, more cleansed locales and speaking on more grounded, humanised terms as they remember the past and laugh at things from times gone by instead of look ahead to a future of the impending disasters that are readily incoming.
In some regards, the film is about the addressing of one's past; the acknowledging of what it is that made oneself in terms of one's experiences and being unafraid to confront them or indeed revisit a proverbial place in which one felt one's identity was forged. For the most part, the two female leads of Career Girls flit around a sunny London encountering people from their past and recalling them via stories and whatnot; the key difference arriving in the form of the women being able to recognise and relive certain memories and engagements, those of whom they meet and are able to speak with at length often coming across as seemingly oblivious to such interactions
a result which has them appear as disturbed or as arrogant or with
any other previous negative characteristics that they always had. We sense the two women, however, have advanced from their jittery; restless natures that once imbued their lives back in the day.
The two women are Hannah and Annie, respectively played by Katrin Cartlidge and Lynda Steadman; Annie the one occupying the frame when we first see either of them a train journey down to London from the north to meet with Hannah. Hannah and Annie were university students in England's capital back in the 1980s, their demeanour back then far more different to a primmer, more proper attitude to appearance and social behaviour than is evident in the present; our entrusting that they are university students, first-year freshers maybe, hand in hand with their general incarnations which calling to mind two certain Harry Enfield characters of a teen-aged ilk. Hannah is better off in life than Annie, a well dressed woman with a company car and apartment, whereas Annie is on the verge of chucking in her job. Where accusations, they of a frivolous and false sort, of misogyny blighted criticisms of the aforementioned Naked; Leigh splits a film that is all about women, and these two women specifically, down the centre page in telling an if only occasionally interesting tale, that is light on story, but is instead a somewhat charming account of these two recalling the faces and places which had the impact that they did on these two.
In the 1980s, they live a grimy existence with a third girl named Claire (Byers); a small accommodation above a Chinese takeaway shop encompassing the three of them in messy living rooms and shared bedrooms. The film chops between the two strands, either of the strands with enough in them to make decent films, shorts or otherwise, as stand alone pieces, but here somewhat uncomfortably spliced together as the nature of the chaotic and unhinged past tense clashes uneasily, indeed ineffectively juxtaposes, with the brighter and more 'grown-up' present tense strand of the two of them taking trips down memory lane. Leigh proves he can rack up a certain sense of unease; the initial coming together between the two women is, we feel, fraught with mites of tension. One instance sees a flashback to an altercation involving some mugs following one of the women's present day mentioning of them, a past instance that brings back a negative memory which ends undesirably that arrives with a good use of panic and pulsating musical tones.
It's too bad the rest of the film is not up to as much as this brief excursion, during which seeds of antagonism or whatnot are alluded to; the film lacking a cutting, narcissistic edge and instead plumbing for these people generally getting along swimmingly with one another in their gliding from one place to the next, frequently recognising someone of old, but sometimes not. At one point, we observe the film open up for an extended venturing of the two from apartment to apartment as Hannah looks for somewhere new to live, something encompassing odd interactions with shady real-estate folk; but it's nothing, in fact the two girls downplay the situations where conflict seems apparent, Leigh stays in sync with the film Career Girls is and manoeuvres us around it for laugh and frolics as they merely exiting accordingly.
Where tension and a fair amount of drama is maintained, lies with the ambiguity surrounding just how much of the past either of these characters can actually recall. A great deal of 1980s content gives way to the present day stuff more inclined to lending time to these people uncovering places and people of old, which while looked back upon with nostalgia in that fashion nostalgia often brings about, what actually unfolded back in the day was often quite grotty and rough. Not for a second are we entirely sure precisely what it is either woman remembers and what they don't, and if they laugh and joke about times and people of old, how much can we invest in the past strand if the resultant drama leads them to where they are now? In spite of everything, there is an endearing quality about proceedings; it may not be particularly noteworthy, but it has a charm to it.
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