Film Review: All or Nothing (2002)

“Love, it’s like a dripping tap”

First up was 2002’s All or Nothing, though it was a little of an inauspicious beginning, as I’m not sure how much I actually liked this film in the end. Set on a modern-day London council estate, it circles the fortunes of three working-class families and their everyday lives, so far so Leigh, but it doesn’t really develop into anything that gripped me. There are several outstandingly strong elements in here, but they never really coalesce into an effective whole but rather remain too separate and thus end up losing some impact.

The focus settles on one of the families: Phil, Timothy Spall, is a taxi driver who has long lost ambition for life and is reduced to scraping pennies from his family in order to pay his retainer for the taxi firm; Penny, Lesley Manville, works the checkout at a supermarket and is struggling to remember what it is she ever loved about Phil. Alison Garland plays their daughter Rachel who works as a cleaner in an old people’s home and is being semi-stalked by Sam Kelly’s much older colleague and James Corden is their unemployed and belligerent son. There’s a whole lot of misery, which is then alleviated by tragedy, which ultimately suggests that life might hold something more.

The acting is predictably strong, and it was a pleasure to see Corden giving a completely ego-free performance here, but in showing how the joy has gone from these peoples’ lives there was little that hooked me in emotionally. Sadly I just didn’t care that much for these people, Spall’s Phil in particular struck me as someone not really deserving of sympathy, and so passages of the film dragged on for me. The characters that intersect with this family provided some respite, but even that ended up feeling rather unfulfilling in the end since the connections weren’t fleshed out enough for my liking.

Sam Kelly found a horrible sleazy desperation as Rachel’s co-worker and Marion Bailey’s sozzled Carol has that sad feel of a life wasting away and the indications of it recurring in the next generation horribly evident in Sally Hawkins’ mouthy Samantha. This mother/daughter relationship is neatly contrasted with Ruth Sheen’s Maureen and Helen Coker’s Donna, their empathy remarkably detailed in the face of Donna’s troubles, and you have to love a character who believes cheese on toast is the answer to everything (it is!).

The taxi cab journeys allow for a brilliant set of brief cameos from some great actors and it becomes something of a master class in telling as much story as possible in such a short space of time that each passenger is allowed onscreen. So we get Martin Savage and Heather Craney speaking volumes as a couple not talking to each other, Emma Lowndes and Maxine Peake as two party girls and Alex Kelly as a mouthy dominatrix, amongst others. Best of all though is the philosophising that Phil does with Kathryn Hunter’s Frenchwoman towards the end of the film.

So I ended up in that odd position of admiring rather than liking the film, the performances are excellent and the evocation of the world beautifully drawn, but it just didn’t hit me where I wanted it to. The final note of the film is a little odd too, perhaps because I wasn’t sympathising with Phil enough, as it was really rather harsh towards Penny. Still, it was enjoyable to see this film for the first time and see another iteration of the Leigh ensemble.


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