Several intertwined plot strands revolve around three sisters struggling with affairs of the heart in middle-class London over the span of a single weekend. Lonely waitress Nadia (Gina McKee) devotedly follows up on personals ads but can't seem to find a decent bloke. Expecting mother Molly (Canada's Molly Parker) gets a shock when her motorscooter messenger husband (John Simm) doesn't come back from work one night. Oversexed hairdresser Debbie (Shirley Henderson) locks horns with her irresponsible ex (Ian Hart) over the care of their young son (Peter Marfleet).
Laurence Coriat's actor-friendly screenplay provides juicy fodder for the talented ensemble cast. McKee ("Croupier") is touching as an attractive sensitive woman who has been passed over in the romance department. Hart ("Backbeat") does his patented sarcastic wanker routine as the guy who can't do anything right. Kika Markham and Jack Shepherd paint a memorably bleak portrait of loveless marriage as the sisters' profoundly unhappy parents.
Heavy-drama helmer Winterbottom ("Welcome to Sarajevo") shot this intimate character piece with a handheld 16mm camera in real locations and the effect can be riveting in the manner of Denmark's influential Dogme films. Winterbottom navigates the challenging multistory format successfully for the most part though there are some dead spots -- minor plot strands about an estranged brother and a withdrawn young neighbor who pines for Nadia seem pointlessly tacked on. Juxtaposed interestingly against the everyday urban imagery Michael Nyman's orchestral score lends the piece a sweeping operatic quality though the effect can be over the top at times.
Lavished with rich period detail (it's set in 1971 Salford England) and hilarious anecdotes the film revolves around the plans by George (the father) to marry off his sons to good Pakistani girls. The movie opens with his handsome eldest son bolting from the altar to live a secular (and decidedly fashionable) life even though it means being severed from his kin. It all unfolds with great energy that never lets up even at the cathartic hour of reckoning between tribe and elder.
George's irascibility is brilliantly telegraphed in Om Puri's remarkable craggy face (last seen in Hanif Kureishi's "My Son the Fanatic"). Linda Bassett as his
common-sense wife Ella captures the inner struggle between a loving dutiful (and abused) spouse and a mother protective of her children's happiness. The ensemble playing their fractious brood -- six sons and one sassy daughter -- is a joy to watch.
Much of the tale's brisk charm lies in its frenetic intergenerational conflict which Damien O'Donnell brilliantly navigates. O'Donnell milks each scene for every possible grain of comedic friction.
Let's hear it for the old guy who in this movie comes off sexier than his buff young accomplice (Dermot Mulroney). OK the old guy happens to be the gracefully aging icon Paul Newman -- as a feisty heistmeister who dodges a long prison sentence and then teams up with his equally conniving rest-home nurse (Linda Fiorentino) on a bank job gone wrong. "Where the Money Is" is breezy suspenseful and as much a love story as anything else -- if you call mentoring a new life in crime a kind of love. The mission-improbable caper is no more or less entertaining than a "Rockford Files" rerun but the film's swerving joyride takes its real thrills from the great escape that Fiorentino's Bonnie Parker makes from a dead-end life in the married lane.
Newman still hasn't lost it and as Henry Manning he doesn't miss any nuances in the edgy balance between streetwise wariness and amiable rapport with his sultry new colleague. The steam-powered Fiorentino has forged her career by making danger look casual and this is her most alluring work since "The Last Seduction" added another zero to her salary. Her chemistry with Newman a flirty twist on the idea of honor among thieves is really what makes this movie worth seeing. Mulroney is serviceable as the dim but lovable hubby a supporting role that's more foil than fully etched character.
We can all thank director Marek Kanievska for deciding not to have the May-December duo end up in the sack and leaving them simply professional cohorts. The director's admirable sense of comic timing works all the better by not letting the laughs get in the way of his leads' exploration of their characters -- although there's no denying the limits of this frothy genre. Perhaps Kanievska's greatest feat here is allowing Newman to retain his dignity in close-up.