Mark Reviews Movies


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Mike Leigh

Cast: Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen, Oliver Maltman, Peter Wight, David Bradley, Martin Savage, Karina Fernandez, Michele Austin, Phil Davis, Imelda Staunton

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some language)

Running Time: 2:09

Release Date: 12/29/10 (limited); 1/14/11 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | January 13, 2011

They are like an oasis of compassion and kindness for their lost, lonely, or hurting friends, Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen) are, and yes, they've gotten past the connotation of their names with the cartoon cat and mouse, thank you very much. They still laugh about the association, too, whenever new people enter their lives and point it out. The appearance of fresh faces is diminishing, though, as the years pass. A set cavalcade of friends comes and goes with varying frequency. They are all of them getting older, and they know it, see evidence of it as the seasons change, and are left to remember how things were when those that have passed on since were still around to have these conversations with them.

Times weren't better; they just were. The same way they are now and—a blessing for some, a curse for others—will be later.

With Another Year, writer/director Mike Leigh, whose improvisational development techniques with his actors for creating characters, environment, and dialogue always elicits blunt honesty in one form or another, spends, as its title suggests, one year, broken down into four acts correlating to the seasons, with this couple and the extended family that has gravitated to them over the years. It's impossible not to want to be Tom and Gerri's friends; they engender a sense of trust and warmth.

Tom works in construction, noting that he helps to build things that will help people for generations to come. Gerri is a counselor at a local clinic, also attempting to aid those in need. A prologue of sorts, featuring Imelda Staunton as a depressed woman who thinks people just snap out of such a mood after some proper bed-rest (which she can't achieve because of insomnia and only wants some medication to get over it), establishes how difficult it is for some to even recognize they might need support, let alone seek it out.

Which leads us to Mary (Lesley Manville), a receptionist at the clinic where Gerri works and one of the couple's oldest friends. She becomes the film's broken heart (The final image is of her alone with friends surrounding her, just as we've come to know her), a woman who defines herself by the search for a man and the constant feeling of rejection that comes by viewing each and every one as a possible partner, whether it's the man across the bar, whose eye she keeps trying to catch before another woman joins him, or even Tom and Gerri's son Joe (Oliver Martman), who, like his parents, has made a career out of serving others.

She drinks a lot. Under the influence of alcohol, she repeatedly tells Gerri that she will listen to whatever her friend might have to say. It's a thinly veiled cry for help, almost begging (The look on her face when she offers tells as much) for an opening for her to talk to Gerri. Gerri, of course, recognizes it and waits (and waits and waits) for Mary to finally admit she needs professional assistance.

Also lonely is Ken (Peter Wight), an old friend of Tom's. He's always eating or drinking (in between cigarettes) and laments the absence of options for social outings—too many young people at all the places he used to go. Even the discussion of the days he, Tom, and the rest of their friends were loud and obnoxious brings up the inevitable conversation of where those others are now and how old they are if they're still alive. Ken remembers how the sight of a simple tree while driving reminded him of one of those friends' funeral, and he begins to sob again at the memory.

A baby is born, and Tom's brother Ronnie's (David Bradley) wife dies, leading to a painful confrontation with their runaway son Carl (Martin Savage) in front of the few mourners who cared enough to come to the service. Mary begins to hint she might be interested in Ronnie—he is a nice man and now available—after the two have a conversation, which is mostly about him listening to her complain about her car. Ken is visibly interested in her, though she ignores and discards his advances because of his looks (He's nice enough and might have been handsome at one point, she considers his prospects briefly with Gerri). When Joe brings home a new girlfriend (Karina Fernandez), Mary becomes jealous, stares uncomfortably at the two, and tries to undermine every sentence that comes out of the woman's mouth.

There are other characters beyond Mary, whom Leigh's screenplay ultimately, unexpectedly, and perhaps a bit faultily holds above the rest, and in these linked vignettes, Another Year paints an empathetic portrait of working-class contentment and anxiety.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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