Deconstructing Hairy

Movies about philosophers are in short supply, perhaps with reason. Asked what he'd like to see in documentaries on Hegel or Heidegger, Derrida immediately expresses curiosity as to their sex lives—although he himself is the soul of evasion. Indeed, Derrida's most spontaneous moments occur as a public figure. He seems genuinely nonplussed, if not downright testy, when an overeager British interviewer attempts to lure him into a discussion of Seinfeld. "Deconstruction as I understand it does not produce any sitcoms," Derrida haughtily tells her. "Do your homework and read."


Having stunned the world with his glorious backstage Gilbert and Sullivan romp Topsy-Turvy, Mike Leigh sobers up and returns to more familiar turf. All or Nothing is set in a depressed London housing estate whose employed denizens, high Cockney most of them, hold depressing jobs and ward off clinical depression by challenging the Guinness world record for use of the term "fuck off." The main depressives, played by Leigh regulars Timothy Spall and Lesley Manville, are a cab driver and supermarket cashier with two extra-large children, one of whom stoically mops up after the elderly while the other strains the capacity of the family's living-room couch.

Frida be you and me
photo: Peter Sorel
Frida be you and me

Details

Frida
Directed by Julie Taymor
Written by Clancy Sigel and Diane Lake and Gregory Nava & Anna Thomas, from the book by Hayden Herrera
Miramax
Opens October 25

Derrida
Directed by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Kofman
Zeitgeist
Through November 5, at Film Forum

All or Nothing
Written and directed by Mike Leigh
United Artists
Opens October 25

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Humanistic tearjerker or misanthropic troll opera? Leigh uses a somber cello-rich score to infuse this quotidian suffering with a mystical edge and high-culture gloss—and yet, thanks to the generally enthusiastic performing, the movie borders on farce. (It's revealing that Leigh would be a fan of Todd Solondz.) The most Dickensian of British filmmakers, Leigh populates All or Nothingwith a grotesque assortment of drunken hags, persistent old wankers, creepy loners, belligerent slugs, and nut-job taxi fares—not to mention the pair of lissome young actresses compelled to contort their features into hilarious Kabuki-mask scowls. The ensemble is as compact in its way as the cast of a sitcom—and no less inclined to squabble and whine. The exception is Ruth Sheen's chipper impression of a single mother with a pregnant daughter. (Mysteries of personality—why did her character get the cheerful gene?)

All or Nothingcan be rough going—even a bit grueling—building up through a medical crisis to the big scene between Spall and Manville. To be fair, it's largely a Spall solo. (Manville had her quieter equivalent at the end of Topsy-Turvy.) And to be accurate, his raw theatricality is at odds with the preceding action. Still, Leigh's lesser films are founded on such privileged moments. Though more cathartic than redemptive, this sob-racked confession is the payoff for two hours of low-grade misery.


Related Story:
"Frida Icon: The Return of the Kahlo Cult" by Joy Press

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