"Another Year" Review by NarvJanuary 12, 2011 0 Comments
Plot Summary: Mike Leigh (“Happy-Go-Lucky,” “Secrets & Lies”) directs a slice-of-life drama about a happily-married, aging couple and the troubled people who drift in and out of their lives.
Review: This film might have worked just as well onstage as it does on camera. Take a cast of highly-talented British actors and place them in uncomfortable situations, mixing the various actors up in different scenes with one another. Keep the locations simple and few. Sprinkle in some brilliant writing and you have yourself a play. However, in this case, throw in a few heartbreaking close-ups and you have yourself an interesting little film too.
“Another Year” revolves around the world’s happiest old couple, Tom and Gerri. They’ve been together since college. He’s a geologist. She’s a social worker. They live in a small house in London, working at their respective jobs and tending to their large organic garden nearby. But in much the same way, they tend to their various friends and family who drift in and out of their lives.
There’s Mary, an aging single woman who longs to find love … but at this point, would settle for companionship. Problem is, she’s neurotic, insecure, jealous and a drunk. She’s a mess. But she’s also friends with Tom and Gerri, which may be the only thing keeping her from spinning out of control. The calm disposition and kindness of the old couple provides just enough support to keep Mary sane.
In much the same way, other troubled friends and family come in and out of Tom and Gerri’s lives. These transient characters spend most of their time sitting on the couch or at the kitchen table, telling the couple their troubles. Each one of these confessionals feels heartbreaking. Each character suffers in anguish regarding the way their lives turned out, finding solace in the quietly attentive husband and wife.
As the story progresses, these lost characters are thrust into scenes with one another, creating new and ever more uncomfortable interactions. All of this occurs while Tom and Gerri observe, listen and occasionally share knowing glances with one another. The misery of others only mildly affects their seemingly perfect marriage.
The above essentially summarizes “Another Year.” There exist some minor plot points that I’ve left out; such as the arrival of Tom and Gerri’s son, and a trip to a brother’s funeral. However, these scenes serve only as minor catalysts and plot devices for our story to bring new heartache and new characters into the orbit of the old couple.
But simple is what I’ve come to expect from Mike Leigh. And so I found “Another Year” enjoyable, if not somewhat emotionally draining.
The performance by Leslie Manville, who plays Mary, is truly remarkable. Her acting is on par with the best performances of 2010. Painful and complex. That’s where film beats stage for this story. In the camera close-ups. The torment on Mary’s face. Always in motion, with expressions of excruciating anguish. “Another Year” is hard to watch, but it’s a world easy to get lost in. I found myself thinking about my own future, hoping I can be the Tom to my own Gerri and live the future that they seem to so comfortably possess and share with others.
Quality Rating: Worth the money. This film rates a borderline “Great, but flawed.” “Another Year” contains the best ensemble performance of the year. However, it’s more a character study than a movie. More a slice-of-life than a linear story.
Spend Rating: Matinee. This is a particularly difficult film to rate. If my review sounds like something you’d like to see, then I think you’ll find it worthwhile to see in theaters. If not, avoid at all costs. You’ll very likely be bored.