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Based on the true childhood experiences of Noah Baumbach and his brother, The Squid and the Whale tells the touching story of two young boys dealing with their parents' divorce in Brooklyn in the 1980s.
Penny's love for her partner, taxi-driver Phil, has run dry. He is a gentle, philosophical guy, and she works on the checkout at a supermarket. Their daughter Rachel cleans in a home for elderly people, and their son Rory is unemployed and aggressive. The joy has gone out of Phil's and Penny's life, but when an unexpected tragedy occurs, they are brought together to rediscover their love. All or Nothing is set on a London working-class housing estate over a long weekend, and also tells the stories of a range of Phil and Penny's neighbors, some of whom become involved in the family's lives, and all of whom experience an emotional journey. Written by
Phil (Timothy Spall) is an overweight taxi driver who gets up late in the day and works intermittently, barely communicating with his family except for a few grunts. His philosophy of life is expressed as "We're all born alone. We die alone. There's nothing we can do about it". Mike Leigh has given us powerful portrayals of the underclass in his previous films Naked, Secrets and Lies, and Life is Sweet but none more powerful and moving than his latest, All or Nothing.
In this film, Leigh looks at three families living in a dreary South London housing complex and captures their lives with an intimacy that is almost unbearable. All or Nothing has a documentary feel, almost as if the camera was just planted in the middle of the living room to observe. The conditions are familiar: unemployment and underemployment, alcoholism, teen pregnancy, isolation, and the inevitable loss of self-esteem and despair. It is, however, more than a drama of oppressive social conditions, but also of lack of communication between people who desperately need love but are too afraid or lethargic to ask for it.
Spall's performance is a revelation. His unshaven face, disheveled hair, and hangdog expression communicate deep resignation. The film is bleak but Leigh mixes its heartbreak with joy. When a neighbor Maureen (Ruth Sheen) sings ''Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,'' at a karaoke bar, her eyes shine with a glow that seems at odds with the rest of her life but is so contagious that even her most dispirited friends take notice.
It is obvious, from the start that something is amiss. Phil says nothing when his obese son Rory (James Cordon) hurls words of abuse at his common-law wife Penny. Rory is an overweight bully who does nothing but lay around the house, watching TV and hurl insults at everyone in his path. Sister Rachel (Alison Garland) has a job cleaning up at a nursing home but also seems to be going through the motions of living except when she is interacting with patients. Penny works in a supermarket and does just about everything to keep the family going, but it never seems to be enough. The film's sub-plots add to the feeling of life reeling out of control, but none of these are fully developed and are just dropped without tying up the loose ends. Maureen's teenage daughter is pregnant by some lout that doesn't give two hoots about her. Another resident, unemployed Samantha (Sally Hawkins) hates her parents and finds herself seducing a very strange young man (Ben Crompton) lurking in the shadows of the complex grounds.
The second half of the film concentrates mainly on Phil and his family. When a medical emergency occurs, the family begins to open up and express long buried feelings of hurt and resentment. The final confrontation between Phil and Penny achieves an explosive power. Phil tells Penny that when he's had enough, he just switches off the meter on his taxi. Penny responds that she doesn't have the luxury of turning off a switch and making everything go away, that she is still responsible for the daily chores and the condition of the family. After Phil finally reveals his deepest fears, a transformation occurs that is unmistakably reflected in the family's facial expressions and body language.
Leigh does not offer simple solutions, but seems to be telling us that although life is painful, we can reach beyond the pain to get in touch with the beauty. He shows us that love is the glue that holds families together and that either there is love or there's nothing. As a result, All or Nothing pulsates with a humanity that, in spite of its bleakness, is life affirming and ultimately uplifting, reminding us that beyond bitterness, there is love, and beyond suffering, there is grace.
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