Another Year

Another Year, at first glance, is a slice of life comedy/drama about Tom and Gerri, two blissfully married if aging Londoners, played by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen. But it is really about their friend Mary, played by Lesley Manville who is one of those people who have a talent for messing up their own lives. Mary, who works in the medical office where Gerri is a counselor gravitates toward the older couple because of their stability. Their north London house is the eye of the storm for Mary and for many family members, friends and acquaintances.  Tom and Gerri have a thirty year old son, Joe, played by Oliver Maltman, who is intelligent, friendly, and eager to help. He’s single but is carefully looking for the right woman. Mary wants to be that right woman, but only she can see that she doesn’t have a prayer. She’s too old for him, although pretty for her age; she drinks too much, and of course is an emotional wreck. When Joe finally does bring home the girl of his dreams it is not pretty.

These dramas play out over the course of a year in the form of funerals, golf outings, cook outs and dinners. The film is really a series of scenes of awkward social interactions. Some of them are cringe inducing.

As in all Mike Leigh films, the acting carries the project. Most critics are praising Lesley Manville’s portrayal of the drama queen Mary, but I actually found her performance to be a little mannered and over the top at points, although generally excellent. Instead I would point you to Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen who do probably the toughest acting job there is, believably playing smart, well-adjusted, normal people. Sure they have their quirks. Tom can get verbally confrontational if he’s angry and Gerri is not always a paragon of warm politeness if she’s crossed, but for the most part these are caring people who want to help. When you see this film you want to know these people. You want to sit in their back yard and soak in their wisdom. It is a masterfully understated performance.

In spite of their wish to help, Tom and Gerri have learned over the years that there are limits to what they can do. People have to want to change in order to improve their lots. Tom and Gerri will offer a word of advice here and there, but if it is not welcome, they’ll just say, “It’s a shame,” and give up. Gerri tells a couple of people in the film, “It’s up to you.” That’s the theme of Another Year, people must take responsibility for their own lives. It takes Mary a whole year to ask for Gerri’s help and even then it’s ambiguous as to whether or not she means it.

Another Year is not a major film, but it is worth seeing.

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