Another Year is one of writer-director Mike Leigh’s fullest, richest, most beautiful works. A finely etched tangle of family- and extended family-relations, it is also overflowing with life even as it leans in on death, the omnipresent sterility toward which life heads. Here is a film without creatures of any kind other than human beings.
Tom and Gerri are a seemingly comfortable long-married couple, although Gerri, a health center counselor and an unremitting moral monitor and demi-snot, shoots disapproving looks at Tom, an engineering geologist. What he does is serious work: analyzing ground to determine what should or shouldn’t be constructed where. By contrast, from what we see, Gerri’s work is bullshit; but Gerri, in front of guests, with Tom in attendance, dismisses what Tom does for a living. (Her silent rationalization: I want to give my son’s girlfriend the chance to talk about herself.) “He digs holes,” is how Gerri characterizes her husband’s work. Ironically, this is what she does; she “digs holes” in people’s egos. Her marriage is a “happy” one because Tom, who is self-absorbed anyhow, pays no mind to Gerri’s unkindness. One must also note the couple’s disparity in intelligence: Tom is smart; Gerri, not.
Leigh’s film, which is seasonally chaptered as it proceeds through “another year,” is well acted (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen play Tom and Gerri), with one exception: Lesley Manville is marvelous as Mary, the receptionist at the health center, who over decades has deluded herself into believing a number of things, for instance, that Gerri, much the same age, is her true friend and Joe, Tom and Gerri’s 30-year-old son, is somehow a romantic possibility for her. Life has passed Mary by, and she is self-centered, presumptuous, irritating, apologetic-by-rote, and an alcoholic—the kind of pain that only an actress at the top of her game could make work as a compelling character. No wonder Manville was named best actress by the London critics and, in the U.S., the National Board of Review.
However, Mary isn’t the only “loser” suffering through “another year.” Overweight, alcoholic Ken pines for Mary, who treats him shabbily; Tom’s older brother and nephew, who treats his father (and everyone else) shabbily, both are at raw, loose ends. Tom and Gerri are, after all, far less happy than they seem, and Joe and Katie may in time follow suit. Leigh’s small group of characters projects a vision of a disenchanted England, an unsatisfying term of life.
Leigh dedicated Another Year to Simon Channing Williams, his producing partner in Thin Man Films, who died of cancer in 2009.
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