Another Year Directed by: Mike Leigh Cast: Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen, Lesley Manville Running Time: 2 hrs 9 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: January 14, 2011 (Chicago)
PLOT: Tom and Gerri (Broadbent and Sheen) are a happily married couple with an unfortunate friend, Mary (Manville). This film shows their relationship with Mary and others over a year's time.
WHO'S IT FOR? Though it has a cast that mostly features actors older then forty, Another Year speaks to any certain age group about what it means to strike another day off the calendar. All viewers, however, should be anticipating a quiet movie.
EXPECTATIONS: This film has been getting occasional buzz, either for Manville's performance or for the movie as a whole. Despite all of this, I went into Another Year with fairly blank expectations.
Jim Broadbent as Tom: Simply put, he's got things figured out. His relationship with his son is incredibly buoyant, and he never hesitates to make his wife tea. Life has been kind to this geological engineer in one way or the other. Thus, Tom is a cheery fellow, who has a slight condescending tone to his snarky humor, especially the remarks that involve Mary. It's as if he doesn't understand why someone like her could be so miserable, but he doesn't do much to help her. The movie needs Tom especially for his humor, which keeps certain moments in the movie light, while others can be fairly gloomy. Score: 7
Ruth Sheen as Gerri: Although she is a certified counselor, she does not provide Mary with the same type of consultation she may give her patients. A member of the Happy Couple Duo, if any character could possibly be considered "bland" in Another Year, it might be Gerri. Though she deals with confrontation in the workplace, she hardly does anything of the sort when she's at home. Score: 6
Lesley Manville as Mary: On the other hand of all this, life has not been as kind to Mary. With a history of flings in her early years, her taste for affection has now become desperate as she starts to wrinkle more, or become increasingly unnoticed by younger men. Manville's performance is moving up until the film's final frame, her pain more palpable than we may like to acknowledge. Score: 8
TALKING: Another Year is a movie built from small chats, usually over tea. The characters explain their own existence with sometimes-insignificant conversational topics, while more serious discussions are lead into towards the end of each gathering. Generated from tangible human beings, the dialogue of Another Year is uncommonly natural. Score: 8
SIGHTS: The discussions in Another Year happen over food and drink, so there are a lot of simple snacks and teas to salivate over as the film progresses. Visually, the conversations are usually captured with a non-invasive medium shot, one that is rarely converted into a less-private close-up shot. Though the action occurring on camera doesn’t warrant a very mobile camera, or even a giddy cutting knife, Another Year keeps things interesting by not relying on extended takes. That being said, the film overall has a very gentle pacing, perhaps too relaxed in some parts. Score: 8
SOUNDS: As a little surprise, this film has one of the best scores of the year. Using lush accompaniments from classical guitars and harps, the delicately used music from Another Year is quite beautiful, and is used to connect scenes, not to overbear on them. Score: 9
BEST SCENE: Many moments in the film are strong, but an especially everlasting moment features a two-shot of Ken (Peter Wight) and Mary, sitting at a dinner party with disheveled faces, hopelessly wearing spunky youthful clothes that most adults would abandon by the time they graduate college.
ENDING: Another year passes on.
QUESTIONS: Were most of these interactions improvised? How does Leigh generally make his films?
REWATCHABILITY: Though Manville’s performance is something to think about long after the theater lights have gone up, Another Year is not a movie that demands an immediate reviewing, nor one even months after. It’s more the type of movie that once you understand its message, you celebrate the film by trying to apply it to your own life. Which, if you think about it, might be a bigger compliment than a repeat viewing.
Spring turns to summer, summer chills to autumn, autumn gives in to winter, and so on. While some years in our lives may just be "another" year for our existence, this isn't another movie about aging, or life in general for that matter. This quiet movie holds onto viewers with its realism, and with its quaintness. For the most part, it's not easy to look away from these well-performed lives, even if they are not evolving much as the seasons rotate.
Operating often at a tone more similar to autumn than any other season, Another Year is not a sunny film, but it does value the warmth we can get when things start to look a bit chilly. With a commendable cast working from a controlled script, it's as impressively natural and delicate as a single leaf falling off a branch after being tapped by a gentle breeze.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10