Naked ★★★★★

2019: The Pieper Review -- Film #196 (3/26/2019)

A birthday rewatch of Naked -- this time with my long-suffering girlfriend! She's a Harry Potter nut, so she basically only thinks of David Thewlis as Professor Lupin (we both got a meta-laugh from the early scene where Sophie and Johnny joke about werewolves). By the end of Naked, she appreciated the performance but had no intention of ever wanting to revisit any of these characters again. She resented the fact that every one of them lacked the crucial self-awareness that would allow them to grow as human beings.

As is usually the case with our opinions on film, the very reasons that my girlfriend disliked Naked are the reasons that I find it a fascinating work to return to. Front and center is Thewlis' embodiment of Johnny. Within the span of a few words, he is able to exude alluring charisma and excrete unparalleled loathsomeness -- sometimes in the same syllable. Since Naked, many have tried to recapture this loquacious semi-lecher of a man, but none have been successful. Chalk it up to the inimitable method of writer-director Mike Leigh, whose creative alchemy with his cast is the stuff of cinematic legend. Leigh uses rehearsals with his actors as inspiration for his scripts as opposed to the typical trajectory of a script inspiring the actors to rehearse.

The results of Leigh's unique creative process with actors is on display throughout the cast. From Greg Cruttwell's relatively small but impactful role as Patrick Bateman's British cousin to the much-mourned Katrin Cartlidge's career-best performance as the tragically fragile Sophie, there is a not a single player in Naked that is not carrying compelling dramatic weight. And that goes without mentioning the singularly empathetic portrayals by Lesley Sharp and Peter Wight fixed at the center of Naked's beating heart.

The sound bite highlights in Naked are endless. Leigh's dialogue is hilarious because it derives so organically from each character. Johnny's acerbic wit is the example that immediately comes to mind, but even characters with less screen time are able to come off as fully fleshed out human beings. For instance, Claire Skinner's Sandra (the third roommate in the flat with Sharp and Cartlidge) has perhaps seven minutes onscreen, but successfully conveys her character's pearl-clutching, Type-A nature by being too flustered to finish an entire sentence.

Each and every character lives and breathes in Naked. One walks away convinced that they are all still surely living and breathing in London. Every woman and man is their own gorgeously crafted quilt square in Leigh's beguiling tapestry of flawed humanity. While it is easy to take Naked as a film that is grounded entirely in realism, another (albeit imperfect) layer of appreciation can be applied if you choose to see Johnny as a physical manifestation of each character's despair. Whenever we veer to the darker end of the wellness spectrum, a little bit of Johnny is revealed in all of us. How else can you explain the fact that so many people actually let this werewolf into their homes?