Title: Another Year
Directed by: Mike Leigh
Starring: Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen, Lesley Manville, Oliver Maltman, Peter Wight, David Bradley, Karina Fernandez
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Not sure if it was writer/director Michael Leigh’s intention to depict a comedy in the 129 minute “Another Year.” For whatever reason, this guy could not stop laughing at the train-wreck of characters that came in and out of this story. And that’s a very good thing my friends (it‘s not one of those ‘it is so bad it’s funny’ type of pieces). The contrasting dynamics within the characters is quite enjoyable to watch. Granted the length could have been trimmed down by 15-20 minutes, but the vibrant performances will not make the running time a true concern.
Clearly, Michael Leigh could not get enough of his own characters – hence the elongated story – and the audience will echo his thoughts as this character(s) drama plays out.
Sixty-something’s Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen) have been happily married for over forty years in London, England. Together they have one son – now 30 years of age – in Joe (Oliver Maltman) and the blissful pair spend their days working in their rewarding careers as geologist and therapist. When they’re not on the clock, they can be found cultivating their garden located just outside the city. They pretty much live the white-picket fence life. Sans the white fence.
Although their happiness and connection is powerful, the people around them do not have the luxury of sharing in the couple’s comfortable existence. Fellow co-worker and frequent dinner guest Mary (Lesley Manville) is up their in years, and one can see that she is fighting to keep her looks. And she is doing a good job with it. Mary is divorced and works as a secretary at Gerri’s clinic. She loves basking in Tom and Gerri’s world and hopes to eventually achieve what they have. Sub-consciously, Mary realizes her life-clock is ticking. In fact, she may have missed her window. To remedy this, bottles of wine enter her system in a manner that would make Janice Dickenson jealous. Seeing the natural love that Tom and Gerri have for each other, directly has Mary’s sights set on their son Joe. Like father, like son I guess.
Unfortunately for the cougar-looking Mary, Joe carries the same traits as his very perceptive and kind parents. Therefore, her dreams are shattered. It’s no secret Mary is about to explode, but the questions that arise are when the breakdown will take place and how long will Tom and Gerri put up with it? Strange thing is, the seemingly perfect family has other friends around the same age, who are also depressed about not having someone. Tom, Gerri and Joe are steady as they go, while their surrounding friends frantically struggle to keep it together in their presence.
Take this flick as a sociological study on a family, and how that said family interacts with their depressed and envious friends. It is simplistic on the surface, but the incredible ensemble cast breathes enormous amounts of life into what could have been a story that goes absolutely nowhere. Besides the long running time, the purpose of the story is tough to figure out at certain points. Time-wise, the story looks at one year in the life of Tom and Gerri, divided into four chapters, which is broken up by the seasons (Summer, Winter etc). For a while, the focus suggests the story will center on the Mary character, but a random third chapter is tossed in, and will have one thinking, “Why are we exploring this angle?” This third chapter – Autumn I believe – is still well acted and engaging, but it deviates from the all the other chapters. So it feels awkward – much like visits with Mary. Good thing is, the initial tone from the beginning is kept. Not sure Autumn was necessary, but no harm is done.
Mentioned above is how this turned into a comedy for yours truly. Trust me, the deep underlying theme registers, but one has to assume that Michael Leigh is winking at the audience while showcasing what resembles a polished Borat skit at times. Or for those who saw Joaquin Phoenix’s “I’m Still Here” documentary, that may be a better comparison in some respects when factoring in the atmosphere on display in each scene. It’s borderline uncomfortable to see how all these characters interact. What makes it engrossing, is how Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen handle their roles. Bloody brilliant! Same for Lesley Manville who deserves some award recognition. Her vulnerable performance is right up there with all the nominated ladies from 2010. Even if you do not possess a demented sense of humor (like me), the wow factor will resonate just as much.
Overall, “Another Year” has a subtle power to it. A variety of fragile characters are on display that project a range of heartfelt and funny moments. It really could be one of these flicks where one will hear the old response of, “You’ll laugh and you’ll cry.” Let’s just say, I felt compassion, but the demeanor all the performers projected had me rolling (I‘ve always been a little off).
RATING: 4 out of 5
Review by Joe Belcastro