Friday, February 11, 2011

Another Year (2010)

Though we usually don't think about it, a lot of things happen to us over the course of a year. We make new friends, have new experiences, lose touch with old friends, and, yes, sometimes may just go through the motions. What makes it all easier, and in the end worthwhile, is support from those around us, whether that be friends, family, or both. Mike Leigh's newest film, Another Year, explores this idea in a way that is completely riveting, despite sounding like it shouldn't be.


The film centers around Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen), a happily married London couple. They are well-off, as Tom is a geologist and Gerri is a counselor at a posh London hospital. They also have a son, Joe (Oliver Maltman), who's moved out and is striking out on his own, equally happy. But the couple's friends are not so fortunate: there's Mary (Lesley Manville), a hopelessly-in-love alcoholic who is struggling with everything that comes with growing older; Ken (Peter Wight), who's barely functioning and equally alcoholic; and Ronnie (David Bradley, best known for playing Argus Filch in the Harry Potter films), Tom's brother who's recently lost his wife. The film follows them through a single year of their lives, as they maintain their happiness while everyone around them struggles to find it.

Sheen and Broadbent

Another Year doesn't exactly have a plot. Its rather a series of vignettes, each one based around a particular season. But that doesn't mean that the film is boring or disconnected. There is a main through-line in each season, namely in Tom and Gerri, who are happy in a way that suggests that after so many years of marriage, they've managed to find a rhythm between them that allows them to keep their chins up all the time. Its not often that a film makes successful marriages look like fun, so the film deserves major props for that. And it comes from a master storyteller, Mike Leigh, who "wrote" and directed the film (Leigh's process usually involves months of rehearsals, rather than a few weeks, where the actors create their characters without a script and heavily improvise). Leigh lets the actors click in their own ways, and they all completely disappear into their characters; there's never a moment when you don't think you're peering into someone else's life. And Leigh's visual language is nothing short of astonishing, as everything from costumes and lighting change to reflect the seasonal changes: summer is bright and colorful, whereas winter is dim and drab. Also admirable are the little implicit character facts scattered throughout, things that enrich the characters but never shove themselves at you.

Broadbent, Manville, and Maltman

But what makes this film really work is the top-notch acting throughout. Broadbent and Sheen are an absolute joy to watch, as they joke with each other but can also be supportive and truly great friends to others. Their chemistry is so natural and perfect, making them a believable married couple late in their own twilight years. Wight, Bradley, and Maltman are also terrific in their roles, making the most of their screen time. Imelda Staunton, whom Leigh directed to a Best Actress Oscar nomination in 2004 for Vera Drake, gets two excellent scenes that prove how great of an actress she really is. Its Manville, though, who really steals the show, delivering an astonishing performance that's easily one of the year's best. I dare you to try to take your eyes off her anytime she's on screen; she's that magnetic and brilliant. It was an unbelievable year for actresses, I know, but surely she could have squeezed her way into this year's Best Supporting Actress category?

Manville

Another Year is very much an actors' film, an ensemble drama that is really about spending time with and discovering these characters. But these are people well-worth your time, make no mistake about that.

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