British director-writer Mike Leigh is in danger of becoming the maestro of actorly tics.

Although his method of cobbling his scenarios out of improvisational sessions with his players has yielded a series of sharply observed comedy-dramas -- the most fully realized one being 1991's Life Is Sweet -- it also encourages his actors to rely rather heavily on character-defining mannerisms. Often these are used to good effect, but with Career Girls the concept comes a cropper -- sniffles, grimaces and various spasms can't compensate for underdeveloped characters in a sentimental and unbelievable story.

The movie is structured as a series of time jumps, centering around Hannah (Katrin Cartlidge) and Annie (Lynda Steadman), seen alternately as punkish, outcast college flat-mates in the mid-'80s and as ostensibly better-adjusted, polished working women in the present. The film's problems begin early on as the young roomies are presented as broad caricatures: Hannah as a manic gesticulator and babbler, Annie as twitchy and pathetically shy, with a disfiguring case of acne that seems to have slithered in from The Creeping Unknown. Matters aren't helped by the introduction of Ricky, a flinching obese stutterer who speaks in cryptic half-phrases.

We meet the trio again during the present-day scenes, Hannah and Annie having learned how to suppress the more obvious manifestations of their still-present neuroses and Ricky, alas, having sunk deeper into his private world.

Career Girls isn't actually a bad film -- there's much to watch on a scene-by-scene basis, and even ostentatious acting can provoke a certain admiration. It's just a disappointing one from an excellent director.

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at [email protected].

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Detroit Metro Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Metro Times Press Club for as little as $5 a month.