The fact that a Mike Leigh movie ever gets made is one of the small miracles of life. There are not many directors (are there any others?) who can obtain funding for a film without first having a screenplay. I guess the folks who finance his movies trust him. Come to think of it, I trust him too. He usually doesn’t let me down. Leigh’s movies (“Secrets and Lies,” “Vera Drake” and “All or Nothing”) are often sad, funny and wonderfully acted.
However, his movies can be a bit difficult to describe or review. This is true of his most recent film, “Another Year.” It’s about a slightly over middle-aged British couple, Tom and Gerri, and the friends and family who inhabit their daily life. Tom and Gerri, played by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen, have a close and loving relationship. But the couple’s friends–not so much. There is Gerri’s colleague from work, Mary (portrayed by Lesley Manville) who is beginning to feel middle-aged. Mary regrets her previous bad choices in men, and prospects aren’t looking any brighter. There’s Ken (Peter Wight) who is also above middle-aged, single, alcoholic, overweight and unhappy. Tom and Gerri’s adult son, Joe (Oliver Maltman) is single and looking, and he eventually meets a new girl. There’s also Ronnie (David Bradley), who just lost his wife.
“Another Year” spans four seasons of a year. There’s no clearly delineated plot–at least not in the traditional sense. There is also no overriding meaning, but rather implicit themes and ideas–with an emphasis on characters. The characters and dialogue in Leigh’s film were developed by the director with his cast in an extensive rehearsal and filming process. Leigh is an artist, and out of this fluid creative process he and his actors have crafted marvelous screen personas. It is both ironic and apropos that “Another Year” was nominated for a best original screenplay Oscar.
Tom and Gerri act as somewhat of a rock for their friends and family. They are wise souls, and people are drawn to them. We join them all as they chat in the garden, or as they laugh at dinner or while they sit in a living room and talk. Some of these characters have happiness and love in their life, some do not. Some face bright futures; some simply see bleakness; and some have hope. The film allows us to get to know all of these characters as real people. Although one criticism of the film is that a couple of the characters (Mary and Tom) are what I would call “hyper-realistic.” Despite this, Leigh’s film is undeniably beautiful, funny and poignant. It’s an original and unique joy to watch.
It may be an overused phrase, but “Another Year” is a slice of life film. And like real daily life, there’s not always an easily discernible beginning, middle and end. To describe it can be a reduction. You have to be there and live it.
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
2010, Rated PG-13, 129 minutes, Drama, Comedy