Another Year (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Another Year (2010)

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Danny LIKEI have to start my review of this film with a warning, the same warning I gave my roommate and girlfriend before we went into see this film: Mike Leigh, the writer and director of Another Year, makes very, very sad movies.

This is also the part where I relate that I'm a terrible person because, deep down in the cockles of my heart, they make me relish life like few other things do.

Leigh, director of Naked, Secrets and Lies, and Happy-Go-Lucky, the latter being my favorite film of the century so far, specializes in tightly wound dramas of the English demeanor. Sometimes funny, oftentimes sad, they regard the human condition with a jaundiced eye. But there's a truth there, a human spirit to these films that electrifies them-- few films make being human seem as vital.

They also really make me want to drink. But in a good way!

But I'm robbing Another Year of some much needed discussion, because while it does fit firmly into Leigh's canon of films, it is a masterpiece that stands on its own. It's an operatic survey of a year in the life of a aged married couple. They're Tom, a geologist, and Gerri, a counselor. They have a son, Joe, who visits every Sunday and is still searching for the right girl at 30. He's sweet but awkward.

It's against these three sweet people that a tragic comedy of age plays out over the course of a year. Most of the drama revolves around Gerri and Tom's home, where they play host to old friends, each with their own trouble, and, more often than not, a drinking problem.

The first and most important is Mary, whom Gerri works with and has been a friend of the family for going on two decades. To say that Mary is a wreck is an understatement; her first marriage ended in divorce, and then the great love of her life also ended up married to someone else. The character lingers on Gerri's happiness with an overt envy, and the bulk of the film's story is about her trying to co-opt some of it for herself and failing.

The other two are Ken, Tom's old friend, who often takes turns drinking from a can of beer and a big red bottle of wine, and Tom's brother, Ronnie, whose family plays as a striking contrast to Tom's. These guests play on three of the insecurities of old age: loneliness, irrelevance and death.

Tom and Gerri are unflappable in the face of these travails, for the most part, though whenever a friend's self destruction seems to threaten them, they wisely circle their wagons. They're a rare breed for couples in film, as their marriage strife is nonexistent. They're happy, in love, trusting, and thankful for what they have. What happened to make Gerri and Tom work so well compared to Ronnie? Was it simply luck that they have happiness while Ronnie's estranged son comes home from his mother's funeral and immediately starts picking fights?

Well, it's just not that simple.

Questions like this, that probably don't sound all too exciting on paper, are riveting on the screen. The uniformly nuanced performances here, from Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen as Gerri and Tom to Lesley Manville as the arrestingly pathetic Mary, are gripping, and the drama never descends into anything silly or easy.

The film, like much of Leigh's work, manages to avoid the often perceived stuffiness of British melodrama. It reaches for something achingly underrepresented in our rapidly graying society, and something that isn't just found in the empty hallways of nursing homes.

This war between Tom and Gerri's own contentment and the misery and failed promises that surround them is a potent and fascinating swirl of the old, long set in their ways, seeking to reclaim what they once thought they had.

An early, telling scene involves a woman Gerri is counseling, whom she pointedly asks, "When was the last time you remember being happy?" For some people, it seems, they simply can't even dare to remember.

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Posted by Danny

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