(2010) Drama (Sony Classics) Jim Broadbent, Leslie Manville, Ruth Sheen, Peter Wright, Oliver Maltman, David Bradley, Karina Fernandez, Martin Savage, Michele Austin, Phil Davis, Stuart McQuarrie, Imelda Staunton. Directed by Mike Leigh
Why is it that some people seem to have all the happiness they want while others can’t get even a small portion no matter how hard they try? It’s a question people struggle with to answer, and one which rarely gets addressed in the movies.
Geri (Sheen) is a therapist who is working with a very depressed married woman (Staunton) whose life has crumbled into dust. Geri is quite the opposite, happily married to Tom (Broadbent), a geologist who consults with local governments all over the world for public works projects. The two live in a quiet suburban neighborhood in London, happily potter around in a public garden, invite friends over for dinner and dote in their son Joe (Maltman) who at 30 is still looking for Ms. Right but still adores his parents. Very convivial if you ask me.
Mary (Manville) works in the office with Geri and the two seem to get on well, but deep down Mary is a mess. She is 50 and single, her looks – once spectacular – fading away rapidly. She smokes too much, drinks too much, talks too loudly and makes people uncomfortable around her too much. She envies Geri and Tom their happiness and wants some of it of her own, either by osmosis or perhaps by establishing a romantic relationship with Joe. That leads to some genuinely awkward moments and when Joe brings home a new girlfriend Katie (Fernandez) Mary winds up making a spectacle of herself.
Ken (Wright), Tom’s friend is kind of like Mary in that he smokes too much, drinks too much and is a little bit desperate. He takes a shine to Mary but she’s having none of it, she’s all for Joe. As the year winds to a close, Mary’s single-minded pursuit of Joe may alienate her completely from Geri and Tom.
Doesn’t sound like much, does it? And yet it is a rich and full tapestry of lives that feel real and lived-in. Tom and Geri (yuk yuk yuk) are people you’d want to hang out with, people who you could see yourself being friends with (particularly if you are, like myself, middle aged or older). Their happiness is genuinely won and seems to be a byproduct of their contentment. In fact, Leigh’s message seems to be that the road to happiness leads through being content with who and where you are. The ones who are unhappiest in the movie are those who are the least sanguine over who they are and Mary, who has the least contentment of anyone, is by far the unhappiest.
The conceit of the movie is that it is told over the course of a single year, with the movie being divided by season and in each season, a gathering at the home of Tom and Geri is the focal point with one exception. One segment takes place in Hull, where Tom is from, and revolves around the funeral of his sister-in-law. Tom is there to support his taciturn brother whom he eventually brings home. Mary doesn’t really figure in this scene although she and the brother Ronnie (Bradley) do interact later in the film. The funeral scenes are awkward and almost seem like they’re from another movie until later on you realize that it’s just something that happens; as in life there are moments that take us out of phase with our natural rhythms.
Manville gets the meatiest role here and she makes the most of it. Her character is never shrill but seems to be just on the edge of it most of the time. As she imbibes more alcohol, her cadences change and her demeanor alters; most actors merely slur their speech when playing drunk but Manville gets it dead on.
Broadbent and Sheen are both veteran character actors with Broadbent being the better known and both deliver congenial performances. They both have to walk a fine line by making Tom and Geri likable without making them stereotypical; these need to be real people who aren’t perfect but are genuinely nice. They are both successful in walking that line.
There are those who are going to have a hard time with this movie because it doesn’t move at a terribly fast pace. Instead, it captures the rhythms of a life well-lived, with the occasional discordant note being sounded albeit mostly by those outside the family. That might be literal torture for those of younger generations used to quick cuts, faster pacing and non-stop action. If there is a complaint to be made, this is a movie almost entirely of exposition rather than action. That can be dull, but instead I found it fascinating getting to spend time with these people, even Mary who can be a pill. Everyone here is likable at the core and although only a few find real happiness, it’s a movie that might inspire you to appreciate the joys in your own life more.
WHY RENT THIS: Terrific slice of life film that is inhabited by real people. Manville, Broadbent and Sheen all give masterful performances.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The pacing is unhurried and there are those who might find this boring, particularly the young who may have trouble relating to the mostly-middle aged cast.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of foul language, but not much.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Mike Leigh received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay at the 2011 Academy Awards but didn’t win.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a nice feature on director Mike Leigh, his creative process and the challenges of bringing Another Year to the screen.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $18.5M on an $8M production budget; was slightly profitable.
FINAL RATING: 7/10
TOMORROW: Young Adult