Every now and then, a movie comes along and reminds you of what you’ve been missing for a while. Mike Leigh’s new drama “Another Year” did just that, in doing both the simplest and yet the hardest thing that a filmmaker can do: Create a world of vibrant, complex, relatable, but most importantly, interesting characters, and bringing us into their lives. Leigh does this with such delicate observation and gentle humor, as he’s done consistently in his career (with works such as “Vera Drake” and “Topsy-Turvy”.
“Another Year” is a portrait of an elderly couple’s lives. Remarkably happy and content, Tom and Gerri are often the host of gatherings of friends and colleagues. The film is divided into four chapters, one for each season of the year, but all in which a different person in their lives is the subject. Not one of them is the same, but they all have a common link: Unhappiness. It’s in the way Leigh depicts this unhappiness, and the way in which his characters go about trying to fix it that make “Another Year” such a warm, refreshing work.
Take Mary, for example. A close friend of Tom & Gerri, she’s a 50-something, hard-drinking woman who still hasn’t found a man to settle down with, and shows no signs of that changing anytime soon. Mary could have been handled as a pathetic, clingy, oblivious caricature. With just the right balance of Leigh’s writing and the actress tackling the part (the wonderful Lesley Manville), she’s brought to life as someone who, despite endless imperfections and unlikable qualities, is still worthy of our empathy and attention The final shot on the film, focusing only on her face is one of the most heartbreaking, memorable shots I’ve seen in a movie in years.
The ensemble cast, really, are uniformly wonderful. Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen as the film’s principal subjects bring equal doses of charisma, humor, and a subtle yet sweet bond with one another. Another highlight is Peter Wight’s performance as Ken, a middle-aged man mired in self-doubt and hang-ups about his unhealthy eating habits. Like Manville, Wight is never a creature to be pitied, but a man to be understood. I can’t really stress how perfectly the players and the script merge, to create something that’s at once so refreshing and so familiar. There are few phrases more over-used than “breath of fresh air”. But that’s exactly what “Another Year” is. Never really sticking to one genre or one mood, it instead evokes several, creating a portrait of life that dizzies and, more often than not, awes. A