All or Nothing review

:. Director: Mike Leigh
:. Starring: Timothy Spall, Lesley Manville
:. Running Time: 2:08
:. Year: 2002
:. Country: UK


Phil is a taxi driver who struggles to make both ends meet. His relationship with his wife Penny, a cashier in a supermarket, is difficult and conflicted. She reproaches him for waking up too late and not bringing back home enough money. Phil even borrows money from his own children to pay the rent. His son Rory, an obese couch potato, takes pleasure in idleness and spends his days eating and watching TV. The daughter, Rachel is docile but introverted. They live in an English subsidized housing complex and their neighbors are hardly happier. Donna, who doesn't know her father, is dating a boy who beats her and refuses to become the father of her child, Carroll is a chronic alcoholic, etc. One day, Rory breaks down, struck by a heart attack. He is sent urgently to the hospital.

All or Nothing starts like a social drama, introducing several characters from a lower-class neighborhood who are suffering from family and social problems, a setting that falls under Ken Loach territory. But after having shown the cruel lack of love that reigns in each of these families, Mike Leigh goes further. In order to solve his crisis, he falls into pathetic excesses that are reminiscent of the films of Douglas Sirk.

Indeed, one cries a lot but too easily, witnessing the delicate and poignant situations of these people. The theme of a sick child on a hospital bed bringing his parents back together has become kind of cliché. Leigh is also heavy-handed: the girl has weight issues, her mother is sour and barks instead of speaks, her father is a loser, one neighbor is alcoholic, another one is a poor retarded boy who can't find love, a girl self-destructs due to her violent and selfish boyfriend, etc. The director does not spare us anything by aligning a collection of human dramas. Of course, all these people have a good heart, that because of adversity, awkwardness and bad luck is hidden under a carapace. By being too exaggerated, the film becomes pathetic.

It is undeniable that Mike Leigh, obviously very sensitive and philanthropist, takes a real pleasure in making himself and us cry. Thus, Phil, in a long liberating and lachrymal scene, tells his wife nothing is the same, that he knows she doesn't love him anymore. Of course, the audience isn't fooled here and knows that she still loves him and that they will get back together. All the problems will be solved: the sick child will be saved, Phil will wake up earlier, they will have more money and will be able to go to Disneyworld as promised!

There really is a feeling of being in the "world of Disney" in this happy ending where love triumphs. The social drama has turned into melodrama. Mike Leigh pushes to the extreme a recent trend of British cinema: the painting of misery and poor people for the sole purpose of crying. We cannot deny the film is on target, once we have accepted its rules. After having endured so much drama, optimism returns and we can leave the theater light-hearted.

The film benefits from a great cast, particularly Timothy Spall and Lesley Manville while composer Andrew Dickson doesn't emphasize the drama, going instead for a subtle score.

All or Nothing is aimed at those looking for a cure of tears. The others will admire Dick Pope's gorgeous photography and the performance of the actors who keep their self-control despite an excessive script.

  Laurent Ziliani

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