January 04, 2011

MOVIES: Another Year (Mike Leigh, 2010)

As we've come to expect from Mike Leigh's distinctive process, the characters in Another Year have a richness and a depth that other directors rarely match. It's a look at one year in the life of Tom and Gerri (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen), a middle-aged London couple who serve as an island of stability and calm for their friends and family, most of whom are not quite so happy or comfortable.

The other major character in the movie is Mary (Leslie Manville), a long-time family friend and co-worker of Gerri's. Mary is a bit younger than Gerri, but old enough that she's starting to feel rather panicked about still being single; she wavers between chirpy denial and glum despair about her loneliness. It's a remarkably vivid performance; I can't remember when I saw an actor whose emotions were so instantly readable. You wonder at first how it is that Tom and Gerri don't seem to understand what's going on, but you finally realize that they're so hermetically sealed within their own perfect-couple-ness that they're blithely unaware of anything else.

There's not really an overarching plot; instead, we get four scenes, each set in a different season, giving the movie the feel of a set of linked short stories. It is, as the title tells us, just another year in these lives -- there's birth, death, comedy, drama, and the always-growing awareness that our time here is limited.

Manville gives the movie's best performance, but Broadbent and Sheen are also excellent, and even the small roles are so completely inhabited that you find yourself wanting to follow those characters off to see what's happening in their own lives. David Bradley as Tom's brother, Oliver Maltman and Karina Fernandez as Tom & Gerri's son and his girlfriend, Imelda Staunton as one of Gerri's patients -- all beautifully played.

Another Year is a lovely movie that has the quiet audacity to suggest that we don't need murder or adultery or car chases; the simple lives of ordinary people are interesting enough to hold our attention.

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