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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
Lets be honest, Mike Leigh's films are not for everyone. No effort is made to make them commercially viable, the cast are almost always, largely unknown and certain scenes are so harrowing that even the strongest viewer can find themselves distressed and perturbed. While these factors keep some people away, they also keep many others coming back time and time again. Mike Leigh is quite simply, a national treasure. And I don't mean that in the same fluffy "Gawd Bless 'Em" manner that people applied to Thora Hird and the Queen Mother. I mean that he is simply one of the finest and most honest chroniclers of contemporary Britain that we have produced.
Make no mistake, the British have always enjoyed social realism. We can gauge that through that great yardstick of social self-perceptions, the soap opera. While the Americans produce soaps full of tanned, successful oil barons and their supermodel / actress mistresses, and the Australians show us their blue collar bungalow owners who like a beer with their mates and a barbecue on Sundays, the British make soaps full of characters who are little more than diluted, softened incarnations of Leigh's own subjects. People who work at checkouts and in launderettes, people who are trapped by poverty, alcoholism, violence and stifled or strangled ambition.
But through it all , there's a hope, an anticipation of a better day just around the corner and that's what makes these films ultimately uplifting. Leigh has always shown that no matter how dire the circumstances, how forlorn the existence, love and hope, friendship and family, will find a way to offer support, comfort and succor.
In achieving this, Leigh has the assistance of another of the U.K.'s finest - Timothy Spall. If ever an actor was capable of portraying at once the fragility, insecurity and yet the potential for sheer stubborn strength of the British psyche its Spall. His character in All or Nothing, Phil is an incredibly vulnerable man. A pensive, gentle man, trapped in his own doubts and in a world of people who react by lashing out, verbally or physically and so compounding his doubts and fear. He apologises constantly, and often appears to be apologising for simply existing. An under-educated but intellectual man he even apologises for having an extensive vocabulary, a character trait which Leigh uses cleverly but subtly by having Phil precede each "big word" with "wotsitsname". It appears that Phil is searching for the word, he isn't, he knows exactly what he's about to say but is reluctant to say it in case he appears educated or articulate. We hear Phil talk about destiny and saying "It's...wotsitsname..kismet". In a world of expletives and harsh words he's ashamed at his verbal dexterity viewing it as a weakness rather than a strength.
Devices such as these help us understand technically why Leigh is just such a good writer and the way in which these devices are performed help us understand why Leigh constantly looks to Spall to anchor his scripts with his marvelous humanity.
All or Nothing is a vicious, gut wrenching, graceful, uplifting gem of a movie from a master filmmaker. Its is performed by a marvelous leading man and a collection of wonderfully talented supporting actors. In a world of blockbusters and multi million dollar opening nights Mike Leigh continues to give us humanity, despair, courage and beauty. And do we ever need him.
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