Known more for his kitchen sink drama, Mike Leigh’s improvisational approach to film (allowing his actors to craft their characters through a series of rehearsals) has resulted in a fine cinematic legacy with any number of films I could have included here. However there is something about the raw, almost dreamlike and haunting world which Leigh depicts in Naked.
David Thewlis, as Johnny, gives a performance that defies labels. Astonishing is as close as I can describe it but it doesn’t do his performance justice. Here we have a film with a protagonist who lives only to exist. He’s selfish, grotesque and lacks empathy. Physically affected by acute neuralgia and other symptoms, whilst intellectually obsessed with the notion of existence. His brain overworked by physical, philosophical and intellectual outbursts. The film essentially focuses on Johnny who escapes Manchester (after attempting to rape a woman) and comes to find his ex girlfriend now living in London. Throughout the film, as well as catching up with her, he encounters an array of characters, living on the edge of society (for one reason or another). He engages with the ignored or those in hiding. Most interestingly are those encounters where he wonders the London streets at night, and the creatures of the night come out of hiding.
Leigh does reality well. That goes without saying. Authentic, engrossing and melancholic. What he does in Naked is take reality and dip it into the metaphysical. He opens up a gateway into the mind of someone whose mind is a car crash of eclectic and dark thought. In addition to that, the look of the film, with the production design combining with Dick Pope’s photography, is a wonderful blending of documentary levels of authentic London streets, mixed with beautifully hyper-reality lighting. It’s a visually resplendent film that almost borders on a noir/fantasy mix with Ken Loach levels of dusty, grim reality. I’ve never known a balance like it, so beautifully realised, particularly when Johnny takes to those London streets at night. It’s so starkly familiar yet fantastically different.
The film might be relentlessly grim but it’s also macabrely funny and thoroughly engrossing. Naked isn’t an easy film to just slip on and watch, but if open to its brilliance it’s one that will leave an indelible mark.
The Full Monty
Now given my opening gambits, this might seem a bit of crowd pleasing come down but honestly, I defy anyone not to enjoy The Full Monty. It did inspire all too many lazy, and almost insipid formula “slices of life” in the years following its release, as every jovial British dramedy being released tended to be billed, “the new Full Monty.” However this remains a thoroughly watchable and wonderfully engaging film.
The Full Monty is one of the easiest films to watch. By this I mean that no matter how many times you see it, whenever it appears on TV, no matter what point at which you flick over to it, you can just slip into the film easily, and then you are lost to it for the remainder of the run time. Funny, heartfelt, authentic (though with a slightly far-fetched plotline) and hilarious it’s just a delight. The hapless Gaz (Robert Carlyle), and a group of recently redundant steel workers take a break from futile job hunting to attempt to put on a male strip show and earn a quick grand. Whilst it might be silly and feel as if the payoff is a temporary reprieve to a hopeless situation that needs more mature reasoning (at least in Gaz’s case) you can’t help but find the ride endearing.
The ensemble are all good. Carlyle is relentlessly likeable, whilst the arcs for Mark Addy (Dave) and Tom Wilkinson (Gerald) offer a little more interest and heft, but the major joy is the group as a whole interacting in a film packed with great lines, iconic moments, a quality soundtrack in what is the epitome of the feel good film.