JIM BROADBENT LESLIE MANVILLE RUTH SHEEN IMELDA STAUNTON
At what point will I learn that if Mike Leigh writes a script, the Academy Awards will nominate him? Leigh, of course, just earned his seventh nomination for the brilliant Another Year screenplay, which would have been on my top ten list of 2010 if it had opened wide in time. Either way, Leigh takes his flirtation with comedy even further here and delivers some of his most enthralling characters. Another Year is the type of film that would bore those people who fail to understand how difficult it is to capture honest realism in characters, a quality we always find in Mike Leigh films. Since Happy Go Lucky was Leigh’s first comedy endeavor, this is him perfecting that experiment.
Blissfully happy couple Tom (Broadbent) and Gerri (Sheen) spend their days home from work enjoying every minute together, whether it's over a glass of wine, taking turns cooking, or tending to their community garden. Their friends from different circles, however, could not be less content. Gerri’s co-worker, Mary (Manville), is a depressive spinster type who can view even the most un-wanted man as a potential husband. Mary rambles on and on about her current and always dramatic problems, like her new car. Most of the time, Gerri and Tom invite the helpless Mary over and watch, to their own amusement, as she gets drunk on wine and turns into a babbling idiot. However, through the course of a year Mary turns into a leech who can never understand when it’s time to leave.
The film opens with Leigh’s former Vera Drake actress and Harry Potter alum Imelda Staunton in a pitch perfect role that defines a middle-aged depressed woman. Even the smallest parts get lots of detail and, right off the bat, it's clear this film will be exceptional. As in Happy Go Lucky, the use of winning phrases like “pissed as a fart” would only work in a Mike Leigh film. The clever words make this movie a joy to watch and, for those of us aware of human nature, it’s very amusing. Also similar to the main character in Happy Go Lucky, Mary, throughout her interaction with others, creates this anxiety and awkwardness that even the audience can feel as if we are there in the room.
What makes this film so similar to Happy Go Lucky is the socially awkward lead characters; they are vastly different in their awkwardness, however. In Happy Go Lucky all the characters have issues, but here we have one abnormal one bouncing off normal people and it makes for quite a compelling and entertaining movie. What I love the most about this film is how Leigh understands normal people. It’s so rare that we see characters portrayed on film who are like average people you might know in your own life. Each of these characters, including Mary, are mirrors of people I have met before and that makes this fascinating to watch. Leigh understands the importance of subtlety and uses it perfectly here whether it’s with a look or a gesture.
Final Thought – Another year is another brilliant film by Mike Leigh.
By: Dustin Chase W.
Editor: Michael Woody
Dr. Donna Copeland’s
The point of this movie seems to be about happiness and how it can be achieved in our current society with all its pressures and demands. Leigh seems to me to make the point that Tom and Gerri have achieved a comfortable being-ness by sustaining their connection with nature (gardening and cooking) and by genuine caring for others. They are able to get outside themselves and actively interact with their environment. The movie shows how others try to achieve that same happiness, but fall short—sometimes miserably short—by somehow going in the wrong direction or making poor choices. One gets the sense that it’s not their fault, exactly, but that they have not been blessed with getting their basic needs met from an early age. Viscerally, they are looking for the Good Mother or the Good Father. That’s why they’re drawn to Tom and Gerri who embody traits like self-confidence, acceptance of others, and interest and caring for those around them and who, consequently, create a nurturing environment. This is poignantly expressed by Mary as she lies on their sofa in a beleaguered state, saying something like “It’s so comfortable here.”
The film opens with a physician examining a patient who wants a prescription to solve her problem, but the doctor perceptively sees that the reason she can’t sleep is that she is bothered. Her case is tragic because she is so constricted she has no memories, feelings, or senses that she can express. The idea of talking to someone is anathema. Much has been written—and jokes told—about the “talking cure.” But it is a mistake to dismiss it or to think that healing can take place only in a therapist’s office. Talking can do a world of good. Listening to oneself talk in the presence of empathy and support brings about understanding and allows one to solve problems. Ideally, this happens with one’s parents and/or with a therapist. Two characters in this film get to the point of talking, but by the time they do they are so inebriated it’s of no use. They’re not using effective methods for finding comfort.
Mike Leigh presents Tom and Gerri as “good enough” parents/friends—ones who express their caring and confidence without clinging and over-management. That allows them to have feelings of closeness and vibrant conversations with their son Joe and his new friend. Sadly, not everyone has such parents, and like most of the characters in this movie search desperately for something to make up for it—either by denying the need (as in the first patient) or by resorting to alcohol and drugs, which provide only a semblance of comfort.