I've seen both "Life is Sweet" and the dark version of Mike Leigh's vision,
"Naked" and found both film a mix of fascinating and, as Rachel says,
monotonous. Because Leigh works without a script, improvising with the
actors over several months before shooting, his movies have none of the usual
story "design" we've come to expect from both Hollywood and Independent fare.
He can be annoying, but he's right in the current moment. Whereas most
scripts take years before becoming films, his movies are extremely immediate.
The downside is a certain sloppiness, a lack of brevity, which I found more
evident in "Naked" than "Life is Sweet". He sure knows how to do a last
For me the experience of watching "Naked" was like wandering through a city
without a map or compass. There were times when I wondered if the apocalypse
was indeed going to happen, when I did not know what kind of movie to expect,
even though I was halfway through it. The main character, Johnny, appears to
be raping a woman at the beginning and the whole rest of the film seems to be
a challenge laid down to the audience to watch a film about a character who
is basically despicable. Yet compared to the world around him, there is
something about Johnny that seems a bit better, an awareness, his intellect,
his desperation. It's the ultimate character study movie, as devoid of plot
as conceivable without being overtly "metatextual" like a Godard picture. I
also found the yuppie Jeremy character to be a bit weak, an 80's holdover and
a bit one-dimensional. If he was truly designed to contrast with Johnny,
then the contrast does not exactly appear relevant. to me, at least, and I
know there are lots of different views on this often confounding movie.
Mike Leigh is an original and an iconoclast. There are folks I wouldn't send
to see "Naked" -- lots of walkouts in the audience, even close to the end --
but with the folks I did send, I prepared them to hate it. The movie is, as
I said above, a challenge, a gob of spit in the face of art, and a real test
of whether or not a supposedly independent feature film fan truly wants to
see different visions -- Four Weddings & a Funeral it ain't.
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