Real Girls

Mike Leigh goes from Secrets & Lies to a deep-dish Laverne & Shirley

But his love for eccentrics, and eccentric happenstance, sometimes blinds him. The most egregious example in Career Girls is the girls' college friend Ricky (Mark Benton), a psych student with a shaggy mane and waddling torso who talks in a painfully halting patter as though he were picking up messages from a squawk box in outer space. Ricky is more than a mess. He's probably schizophrenic, but Leigh, without entirely discounting Ricky's pain, also showcases him as a kind of holy nut.

It's one thing for Annie and Hannah to overindulge Ricky--unbelievably, they don't recognize just how disturbed he is or try to do anything to help him. But Leigh's indulgence is something else again: It's a demonstration of how an artist scouring for stardust can confuse the tragical with the magical. In moments like these, Leigh's little absurdist flirtations seem inhuman. He's right to want to jump off from realism, but, in jumping, shouldn't he at least keep one eye open?

Career Girls
Directed by Mike Leigh; with Katrin Cartlidge and Lynda Steadman.

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