Directed by Mike Leigh

Starring Katrin Cartlidge & Lynda Steadman

"Career Girls"

Opened: Aug. 15, 1997 | Rated: R

Mike Leigh's seat-of-his-pants scripting style has finally caught up with him.

The improvisational director of such remarkable movies as "Naked" and "Secrets and Lies" never works with a script. He hires actors and brainstorms a movie, then shoots it. While this unique technique often produces invested, genuine performances, Leigh has always run the risk of not being able to pool any worthwhile story ideas.

So enters "Career Girls," starring Katrin Cartlidge ("Naked," "Breaking the Waves") and newcomer Lynda Steadman as college buddies Hannah and Annie who meet six years after graduation to reminisce about listening to The Cure and whinge on about their conquered and remaining psychological demons.

Despite all the work that obviously went into the writing by all parties, Hannah and Annie don't have much personality and Leigh relies heavily on gratuitous flashbacks in which insecure Annie titters nervously while abrasive Hannah puts up an arrogant front by pontificating about anything that might be on her mind.

The theory here seems to be to contrast the characters' lives past and present, but Cartlidge and Steadman play the girls in college as merely exaggerated caricatures of what they've become as grown ups. Now days Annie still titters, just not as much, and Hannah is still abrasive, but she's more polite about it.

The flashback scenes are run aground by annoying little hints that they were all filmed within a few days of each other, like the fact that the girls wear the same clothes and hairstyles through all four years of college. These scenes are also plagued with brief appearances of stock characters -- the one night stand, the pathetic guy with a crush on Annie -- that Leigh tries to flesh out with overly quirky personality traits.

Talented actress that Cartlidge is, she makes the best of what she has to work with and Hannah is by far the more interesting of the two women, but there really isn't much for her to do. Aside from a few absurdly coincidental reunions with the stock characters from college, what you've read here is pretty much the whole story.

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