August 18, 1997 12:00 PM

Katrin Cartlidge, Lynda Steadman

The premise is simplicity itself. Having graduated from college six years earlier, Steadman, who works in corporate personnel outside London, comes into the city to spend a reunion weekend with her former roommate (Cartlidge), who likewise has taken up an office job. The movie flashes back and forth from their initially constrained get-together, during which each woman seems preoccupied by some personal unhappiness, to their school days, when they were almost aggressively miserable (Cartlidge spews a torrent of sarcastic puns and insults, while Steadman twitches with anxiety). Acted to perfection, Career Girls is smaller (and, thankfully, less lugubrious) than director-writer Mike Leigh’s last film, the mother-daughter weeper Secrets & Lies. This funny, touching movie has but one purpose: to let us draw close enough to these women that we can hear their hearts beat. And break. (R)

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