Breaking News

Happiness is never distributed equally

By Edward Copeland
When a new Mike Leigh film opens, it's wrong to say you "watch" it. "Eavesdrop" seems to be a more appropriate verb, especially in the case of Another Year.

With Another Year, Leigh isn't telling a story as much as letting you observe a handful of characters. They aren't particularly fascinating characters, at least in usual movie terms, but seem defiantly ordinary. However, Leigh's fictional characters and the talented performers who inhabit them never fail to capture your attention and hold onto it.

Tom and Gerri (Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen), a longtime, happily married couple, serve as the center of the small universe around which Another Year revolves. Tom works as a engineering geologist, Gerri as a counselor and they have a 30-year-old son, Joe (Oliver Maltman).

Even though the film will keep its focus on Tom and Gerri and those who orbit their galaxy, they aren't even the first two characters we see on screen. Instead, Leigh opens as one of Gerri's colleagues Tanya (Michele Austin) counsels a woman, Janet (Imelda Staunton, in a great two-scene cameo) about her insomnia and dissatisfaction with life in general. When Tanya asks Janet to rate how happy she is on a scale of 1 to 10, Janet answers, "One."

After Staunton's character vanishes after her two early scenes, some viewers may wonder what the point of her scenes were, but she's there to set up Another Year's theme: Happiness, or the lack thereof, specifically in the form of Gerri's friend and co-worker Mary (the marvelous Lesley Manville).

Mary could be a tragic figure, except unfortunately there are too many Marys in the world (and even worse, not enough Toms and Gerris, though even they have their limits). Mary is single, easing past middle-age and a functional alcoholic — and she clings to Tom and Gerri as if they were a life preserver which, in a way, they are.

It's easy to see why Mary relishes the time she spends at her friends' home — the warmth it emits practically emanates from the screen and wraps itself around the viewer as well. Mary dreams of a life that includes a mate, but her fantasies exceed her dreams. She puts off the advances of another damaged friend of Tom and Gerri's, Ken (Peter Wight), and somehow has imagined herself as a possible mate for Joe.

One of the film's best scenes comes when Joe brings home his hyperactively buoyant new girlfriend Katie (Karina Fernandez) and Mary drops by (unexpectedly, as she usually does) and Leigh builds tension around the simple serving of a cake. Leigh films it in a series of slow closeups of all the actors in the room, escalating the strain that lies beneath the surface.

For a plotless film such as Another Year, the success or failure of the enterprise largely falls upon the strength of the casting and Leigh doesn't have a weak link in his ensemble.

Manville is a wonder, milking the humor and pathos out of Mary, hitting just the right note at the right time. She can make you feel for Mary one moment and make you want to slap her silly the next.

The always dependable Broadbent gives the best performance he's given in ages as Tom and Sheen proves just as good as the level-headed Gerri and as a pair, Sheen and Broadbent make a believable couple.

In addition to all the other performers named above, fine work also comes from David Bradley as Tom's older brother, facing life as a widower, and Martin Savage as Tom's troubled nephew Karl.

Leigh has the audacity to tell the truth that not everyone's life turns out well and that some marriages do miraculously go on blissfully for decades and to mix them in the same movie.

While I was writing this review, wanting to doublecheck one character's name and the performer who played her right, I was surprised by the negative reviews of Another Year that I found that found it "smug," full of caricatures (one admitted "hating" all the characters) and even criticized the acting — and some of these critics were ones who fell all over the torture called Blue Valentine or the disaster Nicole Kidman inflicted upon Rabbit Hole. I guess a movie marriage must be in a state of disrepair or there's something wrong with the film.

You would think as damaged as the character of Mary (or Ken or Ronnie for that matter) are would satisfy their need for suffering. Who knew Leigh was being courageous by acknowledging that not everyone in the world finds a mate, even for a bad relationship? That people like Mary do become dependent on friends like Tom and Gerri because it's as close to intimacy as they get and it can get on those friends' nerves. It's sad, but it's true.

I've usually found Leigh's films to be hit or miss, but always with solid performances. In Another Year, everything comes together and he produces one of his best efforts, striking every chord perfectly. Most films work best when they don't have any extraneous scenes, but Another Year works so well by taking the opposite approach. Many parts don't seem pertinent as you watch them, but Leigh's thinking several moves ahead of you and eventually you realize why that sequence, like all the others, were absolutely essential.

sho fia

sho fia

No comments:

Post a Comment

Powered by Blogger.