October 27, 2002 [All or Nothing]

All or Nothing does not shout half as loud as the Mike Leigh picture I saw a few years ago, Naked; instead, it folds up like an origami sculpture resigned to be nothing more than a thick but tiny square, closing especially around Timothy Spall's downbeaten dad, Phil Bassett--and there's a sad joke: Spall seems Bassett-Hound-ish on a good day; here he's ears-down and waiting for the other shoe to drop--on his head, of course.

But no jokes here.  The family is slowly unwinding, losing all the threads that have kept it mended. No one pays enough attention, no one can figure out what to do with the other--although the mother, as tired as she is, tries to keep everything tidy, and their daughter Rachel dutifully schlumps her way through a workday at an old-folks' home that seems to offer her some opportunities to be tender to others--but that forces her instead to confront her own loneliness.  The son, Rory (another play on words?), is a big angry blob burying his head in food and TV, snarling at his poor mother as he turns from the family table to--what? Escape his own sad situation? It's not important--because the camera turns to Phil, hunched down and tucked under, always a little moist with clammy perspiration or maybe tears.  It's all a terrible shame.

But Leigh has a title that means something, and as we watch them dipping their hands in Nothing--slow but deliberate, feeling the cold and getting to know it, making it the shallow pool they're ready to lie in the rest of their lives--we get some glimpses of All--but that also threatens to lay them low, that possibility that if they stay together without love they'll simply die--just enough to stop moving, to let every clod strike them on the chest and in their face, buried alive like melancholy E.A. Poe victims.

When Phil drives the well-to-do French woman in his minicab, they compare their lives as parents.  It's a long conversation, and by the end they seem to understand what little they have and all they've lost.  Phil shuts down--his radio, his cell--and stands on the shingle and looks at the sea and comes homes--only to discover that his perpetually angry son has had a kind of heart attack.  Anyone without children might see this as an easy ploy for the family to pull together--but all along Leigh has told nothing but the truth, and when they gather around Rory's hospital bed--their hair clean and brushed, the sun finally shining a bit--they continue to tell the truth: that they'd better choose All--all together, always paying attention, all living not well but with love.  Phil has cried to his wife that she doesn't love him any more--and she does not protest and part the curtain to shine forth her adoration--thank God; instead, she tells all the truth by holding him and crying and mourning with him, and letting him see she also knows what it means to want to be loved.

That's where the move leaves them: knowing that their lives will not change but that they, in small ways, can.  There at Rory's bedside they share a joke and the kind of gently optimistic words you say in hospitals--but Phil notices that Rachel isn't smiling, and he asks her what's wrong. She shrugs it off, but the moment reminds me how fleeting sunshine is in their landscape--but at least they notice when a cloud passes over each others' faces.  As sad as All or Nothing is, it made me feel good, it reminded me that it's easy to move your hand toward others, to look at them and remain silent so that they can speak if they need to.


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