It is minor Leigh coming off of Naked (masterpiece) and Secrets & Lies. It is flawed for sure- the score by Marianne Jean-Baptiste (actress from Secrets & Lies– this is her only credit for musical score) is really bad (sorry, really good actress but horrible at this) and it takes the two leads- Katrin Cartlidge (normally reliable, good in Naked and Breaking the Waves) and Lynda Steadman awhile to find the right tone with their characters.
The film is divided into two parts. And the main triumph of the film is the lighting and mise-en-scene choices to create two different looks. In the flashbacks (the girls in their 20’s in the 1980’s) it’s darker. The lighting is darker, they’re usually dressed in dark colors or black. In the contemporary setting (the girls in their 30’s in the 1990’s) it’s much lighter, yellow walls, white colors or cream/tan bright.
In the flashbacks (and the film is largely about them revisiting places and characters from their collective past) the girls are just overdoing it from an acting standpoint. It’s funny, but they are just overly twitchy (Leigh is known for his squeaky, twitchy female roles). I get that they are fragile but they are overdoing it. Cartlidge is usually great (she died far too young in the early 2000’s) but I think there’s a reason Steadman was never really heard from before or since in cinema.
Like all of Leigh’s work it is grounded in realism, working class—tough and awkward conversations with flawed characters (these women are always correcting each other) like we as the viewers are eavesdropping
Captures the 1980’s really well. The hair, the Smith’s t-shirt, the poster (and tons of music) from The Cure, the poster of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. More than that just the pessimism of Thatcher’s England (which ended in 1990 I believe)
Only reviewed film by Ebert at this point in 1997 not to get 4 stars from the critic