Career Girls

UK 1997

Movie Review By Andrea Chase

The question that popped to mind during the first five minutes or so of Mike Leigh's "Career Girls" was, "How will I endure ninety minutes of these awful women?" At first glance, Hannah and Annie are the roommates from Hell. But there's a surprise in store. "Career Girls" is a moving comedy about friendships lost and found that's genuinely absorbing and always surprising. In fact, I felt cheated that it wasn't longer.

The film follows two timelines. Hannah and Annie as university students in London and as career women several years later. Both begin with a meeting. First when Annie and Hannah become college roommates, and later, when Annie comes down to London for a visit. Both meetings are awkward.

In college, Annie is a painfully shy asthmatic chain-smoker with an insidious case of dermatitis front and center on her face. Hannah, is a ferociously eccentric intellectual, with the demeanor of a crazed ostrich. Both are a symphony of nervous tics and basic insecurities, expressed in such diametrically different ways that their bonding is all but inevitable. What they, and we, quickly learn, is that they also have something else in common -- a big heart, though neither quite has the knack for showing it.

Years later, when Annie returns for her first visit back London in six years, their nervous tics are mostly gone, and so, sad to say, is their old, easy intimacy. Their innocuous small-talk about the past stirs memories of a time when life was simpler, yet more intense. And while the steady stream of coincidental meetings with friends and lovers from days gone by strains credulity, the characters on screen have the good grace to be as bemused by the workings of the universe as we are.

By the end of "Career Girls," we've gotten to know the touching, occasionally hysterical history of their lives and the putative roommates from hell have been subtly revealed to be caring, funny and loyal friends. When they bid each other farewell at the train station, it's hard to know who takes the parting harder, them or us. So much for first impressions.

© 1997 Andrea Chase Air Date: 8/20/97

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