Once Upon a Time in the Midlands | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Once Upon a Time in the Midlands

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This down-to-earth comedy by UK indie filmmaker Shane Meadows (TwentyFourSeven) often seems like a Mike Leigh movie viewed in a fun-house mirror: his modest working-class characters are so genuine that he can get away with having one of them, a two-bit hood played by Robert Carlyle, take part in a botched carjacking against a trio of birthday clowns. Years after abandoning his lover (Shirley Henderson), Carlyle spots her on a tabloid talk show turning down a surprise marriage proposal from her mopey boyfriend (Rhys Ifans) and returns to Nottingham to reclaim her. Meadows and coscreenwriter Paul Fraser coined the spaghetti-western title as a droll comment on the romantic rivals' extended showdown, and one of their quirkier characters is a country-and-western fanatic (Ricky Tomlinson) who strums his guitar at a local pub. But their western motif finds its subtlest expression in the movie's suburban desert of empty streets and dreary tract housing. 104 min. Landmark's Century Centre.

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