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High Hopes (DVD Review)

17 Jun, 2009 By: Billy Gil

High Hopes

Street 6/23/09
Box Office $1.2 million
$24.98 DVD.
Stars Philip Davis, Ruth Sheen, Edna Doré, David Bamber, Heather Tobias.

High Hopes shows another side of London, the side of the slums of outer London and south of the Thames River, worlds away from the city’s booming center. Cyril and Shirley live together happily as a working-class couple, while Cyril’s sister, Valerie, and her husband are a cartoonish, upwardly-mobile yuppie couple. The only thing these two couples have in common are Cyril and Valerie’s mother, who seems to suffer from dementia, as well as from the self-absorbed nature of her children.

Much of the film deals with Cyril and Shirley and their day-to-day goings on. What might sound rambling is actually immensely watchable, alternately sweet, hilarious and touching.

Without the weight of a contrived plot device, High Hopes allows its characters to interact naturally, making this an ideal example of slice-of-life filmmaking. Ruth Sheen is brilliant as Shirley, laughing at Cyril’s bad jokes and hiding her yearning to have a child in some of the film’s most heartbreaking scenes. And Heather Tobias is terrific in a completely different way as the shrill Valerie, obsessing over her dog and clothes and laughing like an imbecile. She lends her scenes an over-the-top quality similar to films from Pedro Almodóvar and John Waters.

For those only familiar with Mike Leigh’s Academy Award-nominated films such as Secrets & Lies and last year’s Happy-Go-Lucky, 1988’s High Hopes displays the director’s evolving talent in bringing magic out of his actors and drawing viewers into discomforting yet strangely familiar worlds.

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