Movie Review: Another Year
The Charlotte Observer
We can all look around our offices or classrooms and see the limpets, people so needy and filled with delusions that they project an unconvincing, anxious optimism – or, worse, a pessimism that comes from stewing in their discontent.
We can look around these same offices and classrooms and see stable, happy people to whom limpets cling, like barnacles attached to rocks that might keep them from washing away with the tide.
Writer-director Mike Leigh depicts both types with a kindly heart but a clear eye in the engaging “Another Year.”
Leigh has given us movies with rollicking joy (“Topsy-Turvy”) and deep despair (“Naked”). But he’s spent the last decade making gentle, melancholy films about people who learn too late how harsh life can be and find reality a frightening shock (“Vera Drake,” “Happy-Go-Lucky”).
“Another Year,” whose title might be an ironic comment about the steady path Leigh now treads, is one of those films. You may not realize the imprint it has left until its last season comes to a close.
It does indeed take place over a year in the lives of 60-ish Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen), a geological engineer and a psychiatric counselor in a public clinic. The movie is like four loosely related short stories, with Gerri’s co-worker Mary (Lesley Manville) as the main connecting link.
Leigh sets the baseline for depression in the opening. Gerri counsels Janet (the great Imelda Staunton), who ranks her happiness as a 1 on a scale of 1 to 10. Asked what she’d need to improve her life, she snaps, “Another life.”
Yet Janet has at least acknowledged anger and sadness, which is the first step toward lessening them. Tom and Gerri’s other friends and relations hide from their pain or remain paralyzed by it.
Ken (Peter Wight), Tom’s pub-crawling pal from college, still tries to find solace in boozy companionship but complains that “loud kids in their 20s” ruin that pastime.
Ronnie (David Bradley, best known as caretaker Filch in the “Harry Potter” series) barely grunts two sentences in a row after the death of his wife. Tom feels touched that this older brother is alone in the world, except for an estranged and violent son, so he takes Ronnie in for a while.
Mary is the saddest and most fascinating. She’s about 55, though she dresses like a younger woman, and she tries to beam rays of sunshine in all directions. But she warms nobody, least of all herself.
She has a crush on Gerri’s 30-ish son (Oliver Maltman), an unreasoning resentment of the son’s fiancée (Karina Fernandez) and no feeling for Ken, whose stumbling overtures make her cringe. Manville frequently works with Leigh and understands his technique: He provides scene outlines and bits of formal dialogue, then lets actors come up with the rest. As a result, her heartbreaking performance looks improvised.
Tom and Gerri seem wise in comparison to their acquaintances, but they simply use common sense, draw boundaries and take responsibility for themselves (and, if they can, for a few others).
Leigh doesn’t want us to take them too seriously, which may be why he named them after a cartoon cat and mouse. Yet he wants them to be a template for the happiness anyone can achieve – even if “Another Year” shows us how difficult that achievement is for much of humanity.