Another Year

Mike Leigh’s interest in exploring emotionalism and relationships in the context of class structuring has never taken a more pleasing form than in his latest film Another Year.  That’s pretty high praise as I value his oeuvre more than most directors working today.  It’s interesting to see the way Leigh evolves, moving from one intense emotion to the next.  Before Year, we met Poppy, a blissfully happy woman, who made everything brighter.  Before that was Vera Drake a complicated woman providing the illegal service of back alley abortions in London in the 1950s.  And now we are introduced to Tom and Gerri, a happily married couple in their sixties who are at the center of Another Year’s story.

Tom and Gerri are happy.  They’re satisfied, established, enjoying the life they built together.  There’s no hint of any problems beyond the usual day to day struggles of life.  Using Tom and Gerri’s life as a venue, their friends and family come in and out of their lives throughout the course of a year, an episode for each season.  The two characters that show up the most consistently are Joe, Tom and Gerri’s son, and Mary, Gerri’s friend and coworker.  These two additional characters wonderfully remind us of both the hope  and the despair the idea of the future can elicit.  For Mary, it honestly could be too late to achieve a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction, feeling very much alone in the world.  For Joe, it is yet to be determined at the beginning of the film where he’ll be headed.  But it becomes pretty clear by the end, again, providing yet another fantastic comparison and contrast.

While there are differences in class in terms of finances, painfully illustrated as Tom’s family contrasts with the family of his brother when his sister-in-law passes away, it seems Leigh was more interested in exploring the distribution of happiness.  We’re often reminded throughout the film that the characters, more or less, started out on even ground.  Gerri goes so far to mention that they’re all ‘graduates.’  But life was kind to some of them, and very unkind to others.  The ending, which I will say is one of the best of 2010, is frighteningly inconclusive, and we’re meant, like all of Leigh’s films are designed, to be saddled with some very heavy and introspective questions.

Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen play Tom and Gerri.  Their performances are quiet but with subtleties done so well, the likes of them are not often seen.  Leslie Manville who plays Mary with a heart-wrenching performance that requires a consistently painful level of awareness of the lack of self-esteem, as well as a considerable amount of humiliation, as Mary often drinks too much and sometimes can’t reel in her stronger emotions (including jealousy).  It’s an over the top performance which could have benefited from toning down.  The star of the show is, of course, the writing.  It’s no surprise the script has been nominated for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar (although the likelihood of it winning are slim against the likes of The Kids are All Right and The King’s Speech).  Leigh’s ability to structure these rather dramatic stories into such normal and average, everyday life situations is remarkable.  The dialog is easy and relaxed, and it feels authentic.

As mentioned before, the ending is perfect.  But it’s not easy.  It’s devastating and difficult to digest, especially considering what Leigh might just be saying: happiness is not always given to the deserving.

★★★★

Comments
6 Responses to “Another Year”
  1. Dan says:

    Mike Leigh is one of the best, and most underrated directors, working anywhere in the world. His films are always captivating, brilliantly scripted and acted. I can’t wait to see this.
    Dan´s last blog post ..Top 10 Woody Allen Films

  2. Great review…

    My former colleagues at Epinions.com are so wrong about this film. It’s not that their complaint about the film was that they thought it was boring which I can understand. It was that they really over-analyzed things and really thought it was all about nothing.

    And if I had posted my review at that site, they wondered what the hell I was smoking or something. I saw it as a portrait of a loving couple just being helpful. They remind me a bit of my parents which was something I was able to relate to. They always help someone out and if they needed an extra hand. I’m there.

    Mike Leigh is one of the best and I’ll be in line for what he does next.
    Steven Flores´s last blog post ..Rabbit Hole

  3. Blake says:

    @ Dan – Totally agree. Although is he underrated? I thought he’s pretty recognized as the genius he is. At least by the highbrow festivals and movie people.

    @ Steven Flores – Thanks, man! I haven’t read what Epinions have published on the film. But you should point your former colleagues to Rotten Tomatoes where the film is a 92% approval rating, 93% by top critics. They must, at the very least, admit they’re in the very small minority. :)

  4. Chris says:

    Another Year is the best film I’ve seen in 2011, miles better than the overrated The kids are alright screenplay, if you ask me.

    I’ll have a review up in the next couple of weeks, should you be interested !
    Chris´s last blog post ..Ive joined twitter- care to follow me

  5. Steven Maerz says:

    You have got to be kidding. How can anyone think this was a great film? It was simply awful. 50% of the people in the theater walked out at our showing and that is no exaggeration. Clearly many critics worship Mike Leigh, but I can tell you from an unbiased perspective, this film is worthless. No character development, not even the main characters, no plot, just a series of awkward, disconnected, unfinished scenes. Apparently some think this is art, but if you are hoping to be entertained, you will surely be disappointed. Worst movie I have seen in years.

  6. Blake says:

    @ Steven – Mass appeal has never been a good indicator of quality work or art. So I’m not sure how people walking out of a screening is indicative of anything.

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