Directed by Mike Leigh
Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen) are happy together. Yes, their views may occasionally diverge somewhat, but at well past middle age they stay active, are engaged by their respective professions, and are genuinely comforted by each other’s continued company, as well as that of their son Joe (Oliver Maltman). As you might guess, that makes them not precisely the central figures in the latest Mike Leigh film, Another Year, which balances its portrait of the contented pair with a heavy dose of their less well-calibrated friends, especially Mary (Leslie Manville), Gerri’s colleague, whose disastrous relationship history has weakened her grasp on social nicety and emotional self-control, particularly when wine is at hand.
Thus, Another Year is a bit of a hybrid work for Leigh; not quite a cataloging of human misery (Naked), instead an investigation into what allows some people to find happiness whee others do not, and what happens when the two parties attempt to interact harmoniously. In that sense, it’s in essence a movie-long extension of Happy-Go-Lucky‘s scenes with Eddie Marsan as the irrepressibly joyful Poppy’s apoplectic driving instructor. While she isn’t permitted the sort of pseudo-religious gobbledygook that made Marsan’s part so memorable, Manville is terrific here, imbuing her early scenes with giddy energy that belies the immense sadness lurking just underneath. Leigh’s technique of workshopping with his actors for an extended period in order to intimately map out the details of his characters, their relationships and the way they speak to each other continues to reap dividends in her many scenes with the impossibly patient Gerri (who, like Poppy, works in a field that allows her to help people – in this case, psychology). It also helps Broadbent and Sheen to perfectly convey the kind of intimate shorthand shared by people who have shared a home and life for decades.
In his desire to analyze interrelationships imbued with both human frailty and some measure of humor, Leigh seems to share space with the contemporary work of Woody Allen, but Leigh’s work is infinitely more generous than Allen’s, as his characters seem to carry inner lives that extend before and beyond the four seasons encompassed in the film, and don’t just seem like mouthpieces for specific brands of insecurity. That said, Another Year isn’t quite as indelible as Happy-Go-Lucky, mostly thanks to its closing “Winter” section, which literally resorts to a color-drained visual schema and a series of tortuously long takes to underline the more desolate aspects of its supporting players’ existences – a sledgehammer approach to ideas the rest of the film is relatively delicate in portraying. Nevertheless, Another Year is another triumph for the persistently engaging Leigh, whose inquisitive, methodical approach is peerless in its emotional veracity.