21 November 2010
Another year and it’s another Mike Leigh film. Just when I think the man canot surprise me anymore, he comes up with another wonderful gem. Decidedly less saccharine-filled than Happy-Go-Lucky (2008), Another Year boasts a troupe of Leigh regulars, who play regular folk, talking regular-folk stuff, doing what regular folks do. Sounds boring, right? In someone else’s hands, this would have turned out to be a exactly that, but in Leigh’s hands it feels wonderful and just staged enough to get over its presumed similarity to real life.
Tom and Gerri (yes), played by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen respectively, are a middle-aged couple who live the dictionary-entry life of a content couple. They are content with their marriage, their careers, their son, their small allotment … they are content. The film follows them and their assorted friends over a year. Divided into 4 chapters, each representing a season, this form never feels jarring, unlike Kim ki-Duk’s beautiful but distant Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter … and Spring (2003).
Other than their son, Joe, the only other character that features in all the seasons is Mary (Leslie Manville in undoubtedly one of the stand-out performances of the year). Her alcoholic, lonely secretary, who has pissed away her life is what Happy-Go-Lucky’s Polly would have been had her hapiness was just a show. Mary is broken inside, she needs the company of friends to make her feel happy. It is obvious that without Gerri, she will plunge deep into an abyss from which she my not recover.
Not much happens, really. In all the four seasons there is a reunion, a home-cooked dinner or barbeque. But what really unites all these four segments is Tom and Gerri and why all these people are drawn to them.
Tom and Gerri tread a fine line between characters you love and ultimately want to emulate in life, or the complete opposite. It is not difficult to see them as parasitic as the dysfuntional people around them: their happiness and superiority stem from everyone else’s misery and hellish lives. I have oscillated between the two extremes throughout the film, when I begin to question their qualifications as “real” friends - their goodwill and sarcasm feel mean-spirited at times. But, their somewhat selfish personalities is due to the protectionist attitude they lead in life: this is further emphasised when Gerri pushes Mary away in Autumn.
Another Year may be the best film Mike Leigh has ever made - but then again, the man hardly makes a bad film. This is one of the best films of the year. A real gem. Highly recommended.