Fri 14 Jan 2011
As one of the last films to be screened for critics for 2010, the saying “Save the best for last” is rather appropriate when it comes to writer/director Mike Leigh’s “Another Year”.
Leigh’s screenplay depicts a group of friends and family, and contrary to blatantly appealing to a demographic marketers covet, most of the characters are in their fifties. Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen) are that stereotypical happy couple, who’ve explored the world, raised a good son in Joe (Oliver Maltman), and are the mighty oak that their friends and family lean on in times of need. Starting in Spring and episodically continuing through Winter, we get an intimate glimpse of characters dealing with real life; concern about their children, an increased awareness of mortality, contemplation of finding happiness in the years they have left.
The performances are stellar across the board. It’s easy to see why everyone turns to Broadbent and Sheen, who are almost nauseatingly in love with one another and able to work together so well when dealing with the problems everyone else comes to them with. Peter Wight’s portrayal of an old friend who’s years of gluttony and drinking have caught up with him is excellent, David Bradley’s stillness following the death of his wife says volumes and the opening scenes where Imelda Staunton is struggling with insomnia and an unhappy life sets the tone superbly (though sadly, her character gets no resolution).
If there’s one person to single out in this exceptional ensemble, it’s Lesley Manville as Mary. She has developed an unhealthy fascination with Gerri’s son, is willing to throw herself at nearly any available man (except Wight’s character) and uses wine to dull the pain. There’s a beautiful sadness in seeing Mary mask her cries for an an emotional connection, whether it’s in her obvious and pathetic flirting with Joe or her harebrained idea that buying a car and driving herself around would change her contentment in life.
The overall script, aside from failing to resolve Staunton’s subplot, is also one of the year’s best; able to paint a realistic but sublime look at life for these characters. Leigh’s ability to take his script and guide the actors through it all is to be commended as well. There are places which could have been tightened up or moved through at a quicker pace but we need the quiet moments in order to appreciate the rest and he understands that.
For those who love his earlier works (“Happy-Go-Lucky“, “Secrets & Lies”, “Life is Sweet”), this is a no-brainer. And for those unfamiliar with his work, there’s no time like the present to get acquainted with it and you might as well start with “Another Year”, which gets a 4.5 out of 5. It’s probably 2010′s best all-around film and if it isn’t released in a theater near you, I highly recommend putting it on the rental queue.