[Screen It]

(2002) (Timothy Spall, Lesley Manville) (R)

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Drama: Various low-income family members deal with the issues and strained family dynamics in their lives.
Phil Bassett (TIMOTHY SPALL) is a pessimistic and depressed cab driver who doesn't make enough money driving passengers to pay off Neville (GARY McDONALD), his stern boss. Phil's attitude is no surprise considering that he lives in a London housing complex with his emotionally distant wife, Penny (LESLEY MANVILLE), nursing home worker daughter, Rachel (ALISON GARLAND), and unemployed, obese and constantly angry and belligerent teenage son, Rory (JAMES CORDEN).

Penny works in the local grocery store with her good friend, Maureen (RUTH SHEEN), a single mom who has to put up with her angry daughter, Donna (HELEN COKER), who's just discovered she's pregnant by her emotionally and physically abusive boyfriend, Jason (DANIEL MAYS).

When those two break up, Donna's promiscuous neighbor, Samantha (SALLY HAWKINS), quickly moves in on Jason. Her father, Ron (PAUL JESSON), works with Phil, while his wife, Carol (MARION BAILEY), is a constantly drunk alcoholic.

As the various family members simply try to get by in their lives and deal with their individual family dynamics, a sudden shocking event has a great impact on some of them and their outlook on life and each other.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Most people go to the movies or rent videos to escape from their overwhelming, humdrum and/or depressing everyday lives. Few want to see others paying bills, working mindless jobs or dealing with rotten kids. That is, unless that comes in the form of a comedy, suspense thriller or the like where realism takes a back seat to some sort of vicarious escapism.

Sure, there are those who enjoy watching soap operas and their various dramatic issues. Even so, most such shows are played in such an overwrought, exaggerated theatrical style that they don't feel real. Instead, they allow the viewer to feel relieved that at least their lives aren't as bad or screwed up like those on the screen.

Viewers may have that same latter feeling after watching writer/director Mike Leigh's latest film, "All or Nothing." Yet, it's done in such a bleak, depressing and realistic fashion that it may hit too close to home for some viewers and will likely otherwise be overbearing and uncomfortable to watch for everyone else.

More akin to the subdued "Secrets & Lies" than Leigh's last effort, "Topsy-Turvy," this one focuses on various characters' downcast, downtrodden and/or miserable lives. While it's probably an accurate portrayal of many such lower income people living in housing complexes - this one's set in a working class London project - the film is hardly what most would consider an entertaining let alone enjoyable offering, although it does occasionally have a few such standalone moments.

What it does have going for it, however, like many of the filmmaker's other works, are terrific performances from a talented cast. Although a few minor characters aren't fleshed out that well or feel like caricatures (particularly a French passenger in a cab), the rest are such honest portrayals that one is apt to forget they're watching performers rather than real people.

Timothy Spall ("Vanilla Sky," "Rock Star") and Lesley Manville ("Topsy-Turvy," "Secrets & Lies") are quite good as a husband and wife who've lost more than just that loving feeling, while Alison Garland ("Secret Society," "Virtual Sexuality") and James Corden ("Whatever Happened to Harold Smith?" "Twenty Four Seven") are solid playing their teenage kids who've reacted to the familial dysfunction in polar opposite ways.

Ruth Sheen ("Bait," "Virtual Sexuality") is also good as the single mother who shines in a karaoke moment when not otherwise trying to keep an upbeat attitude about her surly daughter - played by Helen Coker ("The House of Mirth") - who has an abusive boyfriend -- Daniel Mays ("Pearl Harbor").

The other family consists of Paul Jesson (various TV movies) as a less than honest cabbie, Marion Bailey ("Nasty Neighbours," "Don't Get Me Started") as his perpetually drunk wife, and Sally Hawkins (making her debut) playing their promiscuous daughter.

Leigh seems to be going after something of an exploration of how parents and strained family life affects the kids (since most of the kids are belligerent at best). While no great revelations are uncovered, the portrayal of such thematic material is mostly disheartening and depressing despite some late in the game developments.

Like Leigh's other small-scale and more intimate films, this one favors performances over plot. Consequently, it drags in many spots, a point not helped by the many static shots found throughout the production.

Although there's a "big shocking event" late in the film (which isn't really that shocking or hard to see coming considering the circumstances) and the lives of the various characters and families do intersect, there's nothing terribly complicated in terms of plot or related developments. Of course, that's how most of everyday life really is, and Leigh and his cast nail the portrayal of a mostly bleak existence and thankfully do so without wallowing in melodrama.

Certainly not entertaining or the sort of film you'd ever want to watch again after experiencing it, the effort features solid performances but also an omnipresent and gloomy realism that's likely to wear down and depress many viewers. More suited to diehard fans of the filmmaker's usual work rather than the casual moviegoer looking to escape such material in their lives, "All or Nothing" rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed October 22, 2002 / Posted November 1, 2002

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