All or Nothing

Both filmmakers capture the desperation of good people on the edge of poverty who find love.

Mike Leigh has commented that his "All or Nothing" and other working class films are not documentary style although they aspire to the milieu of the documentary. He claims to heighten the reality of his characters by isolating them, for instance in their tenement where only the central characters seem to live. Leigh tries not to distract with other realities such as drug dealing or theft.

Just so in this film. Phil's (Timothy Spall) family is isolated even from itself. He lives in a South London public housing project and drives a cab dealing with everyone from high-class ladies to drunks who can't pay. Although he gets up late and bums the company percentage from his family, he pays them back and frets about their love (remember his Maurice in "Secrets and Lies"). His 2 children are overweight: daughter is nursing home caregiver; the son is rude and abusive. His wife, a cashier at Safeway, seems the sanest but gives little comfort to love-starved Spall.

Leigh brings them together through a health emergency in a return to the sense of humor and mutual respect they may have lost along the way. Mira Nair has similar themes in her recent "Hysterical Blindness" with teased-hair, Jersey-accented Uma Thurman and Juliette Lewis. Both filmmakers capture the desperation of good people on the edge of poverty who find love. Leigh's Phil has the humanity and optimism to tell a fellow cabbie recently wrecking his car, "You might have driven around the corner and killed a little girl."

Leigh's authentic depiction of the lower classes in "All or Nothing" makes me revise downward my opinion of Mike Nichols' depiction of Staten-Island Tess (Melanie Griffith) in "Working Girl." Leigh shows us a world stripped down to its essentials, where living is more a heroic act than any of us could imagine. He is a genius of the commoner and a humanist of the first order. His films must be seen.