December 17, 2002 -- "All or Nothing" is one of those dreary European art films about alienated people living in quiet desperation, with the trimmings of dysfunctional families, the mind-numbing dominance of television and demeaning jobs. Now that's entertainment! Actually all the despair, loneliness and angst are slightly mitigated by the film's modestly upbeat ending, but it is too late to really moderate all that gloom.
Timothy Spall, who was so brilliant in his supporting role in "Rock Star," stars here as the woebegone taxi driver Phil. He drives around all day in a sad stupor. His face never changes expression. He is nevertheless very philosophical, always trying to look on the bright side of things. In one conversation with a fare, he notes that humans are born alone and die alone and there is nothing you can do about it. Come to think of it, that really isn't looking on the bright side, is it? His children take after him in terms of their ample girth and sullen faces. Rachel (played wonderfully by Alison Garland) is a sweet, generous soul who cleans rooms at a nursing home. Rory is sullen and angry, prone to fits of rage and violence. He is unemployed, moping around the house like a giant sore. Their mother, Penny (masterfully played by Lesley Manville of "Topsy Turvy"), works hard every day at the checkout counter of a supermarket and runs the house as well as she can. She seems to be at the end of her rope and is very disappointed in Phil and Rory. Neither has much ambition. Phil works just hard enough to get by.
Several neighbors are also featured in the story, including a mother who learns her daughter is pregnant, another young girl who is trying her best to become pregnant, a mother and father who are both alcoholics and various boyfriends who look like they have escaped from mental wards. They are either sullen or violent. The story trundles along its sad and sullen path for about three quarters of the movie before it finally becomes more than a depressing character study. A sudden event shakes Phil and his family out of their stupor into a confrontation. We finally get to see what is really bothering Phil. This leads to the aforementioned slightly upbeat ending. It is sort of like "The Shipping News" where the main character is in such a sorry state at the beginning of the book, even the slightest of improvements seems pretty upbeat. That's what is happening here.
The acting is really great in this film. Spall is terrific and so is the rest of the cast. The problem with the film is its slow pace and lack of any kind of leavening material, such as comedy, to relieve its monotonous depressing tone in the first three-quarters of the film. The ending of the film is fine, that and the dramatic confrontation are the best parts of the film by far. There is also a scene in a bar when one of the main characters does a nice karaoke number, until the song is interrupted. The rest of this film is for art film fans only. Others would be well advised to fast-forward through the dull parts and get to the real meat of the movie. This film rates a C.
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