Another Year

British director Mike Leigh's latest film tells the story of twelve months in the life of a happily married couple, Tom and Gerri (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) as they interact with a series of unhappy people; family, friends and work colleagues. Not as light-hearted as Leigh’s last film, Happy-Go-Lucky, or as sombre as the long run of films that preceded it, Another Year falls somewhere in between, an acutely observed, bittersweet character comedy.

The film opens with a series of tense, terse scenes where a depressed, middle-aged woman named Janet (Imelda Staunton) visits a doctor for sleeping tablets, before attending – under protest – a session with Gerri, the clinic’s counsellor. In another Leigh film, we might follow Janet’s story but in this one she is never mentioned again. We’re interested in Gerri, and so follow her home to the suburban London house she shares with her husband, the place where they raised their thirty year old son Joe (Oliver Maltman) and where they entertain, now and again, small groups of friends over a bottle of wine. Patient, calm Gerri spends as much time tending to her family and friends as she does to her neat garden and blooming allotment. For his part, steady, sturdy Tom works as a geologist specialising in building foundations, the bedrock of the city. They’re literally the salt of the earth.

Gerri’s closest friend is medical secretary Mary (Lesley Manville) they’ve worked together for twenty years. Scatterbrained and man-hungry, Mary likes to drink and talk, both of which tend to get her into trouble. Then there’s Tom’s childhood friend Ken (Peter Wight); a big, boozy Northern bachelor who comes to visit on his weekends off. As we gradually get to know these characters, not much of anything happens. Mary buys a second-hand car and it is a disaster. Joe brings home his new girlfriend Katie (Karina Fernandez) and she’s lovely; cheerful and chatty and easygoing. Gerri harvests some nice tomatoes. Tom worries about his brother Robbie (David Bradley). Ken gets drunk and falls over.

Chaptered into four separate sections, each titled after a season of the year, Leigh presents all of this in his typically unshowy manner, light on plot but heavy on character, filled with tiny moments of observational comedy and sneakily delicate drama. What distinguishes Leigh from his contemporaries is his ability to make a compelling story out of the material that other filmmakers use as filler. A cup of tea and a stray word turns into a crisis moment in a friendship, a fraught drive to the railway station hinges on an excruciatingly fumbled kiss, a rushed arrival at a summer barbeque opens up questions about the latecomers state of mind. All of these delicate moments might be lost in a busier story but for Leigh they are the reason for making the film in the first place, the entirety of the thing.

As we have come to expect from this consummate actor’s director, the performances from the entire ensemble are outstanding, intricately constructed, richly detailed and profoundly moving. It is a pleasure to spend a couple of hours in their company, even the sad and lonely ones. Especially them.

1 comment:

Paul D. Brazill said...

Yeah, sounds awful. Even the title sends you to off to to the land of nod. Drab posh people being drab and posh. Just like Mike Leigh!