Three Excellent Films from a Master Filmmaker
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I discovered Mike Leigh through SECRETS AND LIES, which prompted me to watch VERA DRAKE, which has led me to order all three MIKE LEIGH COLLECTIONS. Thus far I am very pleased.
Mike Leigh has observative powers which are rare in anyone. He can take something apart, put it back together, make you see it in a new way, and perhaps not even let you know what he's done until two hours after the movie's over. You get so wrapped up in his oh-so-real characterizations and organically unfolding plots that you forget. You and your partner are still talking about it after it's over.
Observing the broad sweeping things people do is difficult, but artists do it. But to also capture the minutiae is a Mike Leigh trademark. Watching these traits large and small feed off each other to create a sum greater than its parts is a true joy.
Mike Leigh has the ability to present things in movies that could be presented in novels, for example, but not as well. He's a master of the medium.
In all Mike Leigh films, I suggest not reading the DVD jacket or any plot summary. They give away his spoilers. Trust, watch, and enjoy.
Time to get specific here:
Hard Labour is from 1973, only 70 minutes, and it packs a punch. You'll think about this one long after you're done watching it. There are some issues about daily life that will move you, plus one bit of "controversial issue" that led to the film's title but which is actually a subplot that brings the main plot into sharp focus.
Grown Ups, 1980, is 95 minutes, and it also packs a punch. He captures family life more realistically than anyone I know. Uncomfortably realistic? If so, fortunately he leavens it with subtle humor.
Abigail's Party, 1977, is 105 minutes, and I'm glad I watched it last. I thought it was the newest -- oops. It is the one with the best sound quality by far -- I'm only giving the collection four stars because the sound's a bit off on the first two I named here -- and it also uses humor more effectively than the other two. A bit like SECRETS AND LIES that way, and definitely the product of a very mature filmmaker. If I'd seen this when it was released in 1997, I'd have become a Mike Leigh groupie right then. As it is, though, I became one 30 years later.