Saturday, October 3, 2009

Meantime (1984)

Director: Mike Leigh 

Meantime's most remarkable feature is that it debuts Gary Oldman and is Tim Roth's second film. As you watch the movie, it is quite easy to see how Tim Roth will progress into the star he is today. Not as much for Gary Oldman, in my opinion. Tim Roth plays Colin, a young man in his late teens or very early twenties who is simple-minded. His performance is brilliant. The character is handled lovingly and with care and understanding. Colin seems to be the soft-spoken voice of tranquility in a world that is loud and confusing and out of control. He watches what goes on around him, processing it with his own unique views on the world, sometimes with clarity.

Gary Oldman plays a secondary character, Coxy, a local skinhead who bums around with his friends. The group is always shown acting up and laughing and having fun, while the rest of the unemployed, Thatcher-era masses are downtrodden, sour-faced, and angry. He is goofy and his dialogue is often hard to understand. I think this could be due to the terrible sound on the DVD as much as the way he's speaking, though.

The movie centers around the Pollock family: Mother Mavis (Pam Ferris), Father Frank (Jeff Robert), older son Mark (Phil Daniels), and younger son Colin (Roth). The sons are past the age that they should be moving out of their parents' home, but the economy does not allow them the pleasure. All four members of the family are unemployed. Mavis goes to bingo in hopes of winning a jackpot to free them of their financial burdens. Frank is lazy, not even bothering to call the building manager when windows and other things break in their tiny flat. While he is shown lounging around in a bathrobe like a lazy sod, there is the sense that some of these cliche behaviors are due to depression over his job failures and the successes of his wife's sister and her husband who live in a nearby town in a large house in a nice neighborhood.

The movie also showcases friends and neighbors of the Pollock family.  There is a local girl named Hayley who seems to have a past with every boy in the neighborhood.  She seems only marginally more functional than Colin, slumping everywhere and barely talking.  Hayley's friend and her boyfriend are shown briefly.  The girl is pregnant and living with her mother.  She and the baby's father are both unemployed.  Uncle John (Alfred Molina) and Aunt Barbara, who are upper middle class, have no children of their own.

The relationship between the two brothers seems to be the focal point around which everything else in the film unfolds.  Mark seems to care for Colin, and worry about him, but he is also torn by jealousy.  He is feeling the pressure, as the oldest, to try to find a job and make a way for himself, while watching his former friends (the skinhead gang) loafing around happily stuck in a sort of teenage limbo.

The movie is more guided than scripted.  There are some shots that you don't see often in movies that make the scenes around them more effective.  There is one scene lasting several minutes of the wash room at the Pollock's house that features the washing machine and a bottle of detergeant in its center, focusing only on the legs of the family members as they walk around it.  Another scene, when the aunt is upset and sitting on the floor of her bedroom, the camera focuses on Alfred Molina in the doorway.  He moves about changing clothes from work, and moves out of the shot several times, but the camera remains focused on the empty doorway, what his wife is seeing as she waits for his return, to see the effect of her words on his face.  It gives a starkness to the film, as if the viewer is there, part of what's going on.

The soundtrack is horrid, though.  At times it is louder than the voices and it's a very annoying, after-school-special sort of generic music. It was made for TV (a year later released theatrically) so that's forgivable.  I do think it would have been a lot better if it had had some actual music. I kept wanting a soundtrack of The 4Skins or some other relavent oi bands.  Instead there was that blaring trumpet and sudden outburts from an electronic keyboard at inappropriate times.  Otherwise, the movie is a lovely slice-of-life drama that portrays characters whose lives before the film are obvious, and whose lives after the film is over continue.  You can hear their conversations after the screen goes black and the credits roll.  It makes the viewer want to imagine what happened next, but even though you don't know for certain, it still feels as if the film had all the closure it needed.  It's dated, but should still be watched to see the beginnings of the careers of two of the best actors of our generation.

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