REVIEW: Another Year [2010]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 129 minutes | Release Date: November 5th, 2010 (UK)
Studio: Momentum Pictures / Sony Pictures Classics
Director(s): Mike Leigh
Writer(s): Mike Leigh

“The bonding of the jilted”

Four seasons of love, laughs, and family for the Hepples is a year of angst, tragedy, and depression for those surrounding them. As such, Mike Leigh’s new film is aptly titled Another Year, showing us a day or two from each quarter spanning Spring to Winter. Tom and Gerri—yes, they see the joke in the pairing—are the exception to prove the rule, a happily married couple who do everything together, have a wonderful relationship with their son Joe, and truly enjoy their jobs as a geologist and psychologist respectively. They met at university and have been inseparable since, a team envied by those in their circle of acquaintances, everyone on the outside wanting to become part of the family. So, for every affable moment or casual wink across the room from jest by these lovers there is an alcoholic as fodder for jokes or a troubled soul in need of levity. Leigh shows his characters unfiltered and crushingly laid bare as every bit of good news doubles as bad for someone else. We watch the Hepples stay strong and undefeatable while the others fall from delusions of hope to the reality of failed opportunity.

Depression is a huge theme in the film and one that affects everyone. Another Year doesn’t just drop us into the Hepples’ life; we enter through the conduit of a woman, Janet (Imelda Staunton), and her inability to find happiness. Here is someone who can’t find the words to describe her happiest moment yet quickly answers that the thing to make her life better would be to get a new one. This is the common man, a person who has settled and let the world dictate where she’s been and goes, never once pushing back to do what she desires. It’s Janet’s indifference to living—her need of pills to eclipse the stress-induced insomnia for a night’s sleep—that introduces us to Gerri (Ruth Sheen), her counselor. Somehow this saint can listen to the troubles of patients, dispense advice and encouragement, and still be able to go home, tell her husband she had a trying day, and yet enjoy her off-hours in spite of the suffering laid at her feet. Gerri is the rock for her friend, her son, and her clients; husband Tom (Jim Broadbent) is hers. She can tell him anything and he will listen whether lying in bed, tending their large garden, or taking turns as chef in the kitchen.

But while it is fun to watch the two go about life, drunk on love, the real intrigue comes in how they react to the beaten down people around them. Because of this, not only do the supporting characters end up being more interesting in their problem-riddled lives, but one, a coworker and friend of Gerri named Mary (Lesley Manville), ends up becoming the star. Tom and Gerri are complex, don’t get me wrong, they have to be in order to sift through the highs and lows with kind hearts and compassion despite being shown ingratitude by those they thought of as ‘part of the family’. They just aren’t flashy like a drunk, overweight friend living on past happiness rather then creating new (Peter Wight’s Ken), or a closed-off widower with little to say and his mean-spirited, troubled son (David Bradley’s Ronnie and Martin Savage’s Carl), or Mary, a manic, middle-aged woman who thinks everyone is hitting on her but none love her. So hyperactive at rest, the massive amounts of wine imbibed only loosen Mary’s lips and inappropriateness, always hijacking conversations to become the most important one in the room.

The world moves and so much changes over the course of the year depicted, yet Mary stays the same, watching as everyone sustains joy, making her lot seem more depressing each season. Manville is a revelation in the role, at first appearing almost too over-the-top, grandstanding her lush with too much talk, heavy slurs, and an obnoxiousness that makes Broadbent’s Tom helpless from having a little fun by taking shots at her in ways only the sober folks in the room can tell. But then fate and the Gods find a way to take this poor soul’s life and make it even worse, testing her to rise above the adversity—something she cannot do because she’d rather feign a smile and lie about how she feels then breakdown and face the horrible reality of her self loathing. She sees her fit body as a way into the lives of single older men, using her actual age as the excuse for when they deflect her for younger girls. Married once to a jerk and in love with ‘the one’ only to find he had a wife, Mary needs her delusions to sustain her.

Disgusted by Ken, the single man her age in the story, Mary instead believes she can be the older woman to the Hepples’ son Joe (Oliver Maltman), a thirty-year old she’s always had a connection to and thought was more than an aunt/nephew type exchange. She gets by on the not so subtle flirts when he’s around, unburdening her troubles on Gerri, using her friend’s skills without an appointment. The universe doesn’t revolve around her, though, and things change quickly. The car she buys proves more trouble than it’s worth; tragedies occur that affect her friends; and Joe finally finds someone he’s serious about, Karina Fernandez’s Katie. To rub salt in the wound, this young woman has such a similar disposition and loquacious way of speaking as Mary, just one more in the long line of replacements that have pushed her aside to a hard life of solitude. The pain is too much as jealousy and cattiness enter, risking ruining the one bright spot in her life. It is through this that Broadbent and Sheen are allowed to shine, their sunny personas tested by adversity and rising above it.

Another Year’s success is in these characters roaming through its slice of life plot that remains open for us to wonder where everyone will go the following year. Brilliant performances in a script so nuanced we don’t realize how much is actually happening before realizing everyone has changed from start to finish based on personal decisions and their affect on the trajectory of others. It’s a film you can sink your teeth into as a result—the handling of depression and disappointment serving as what to do and what not to do in our own lives, each role similar to someone we all know. It isn’t always about finding the love of your life; it’s about loving yourself and having people to turn to in times of need. For Mary, the decision to risk the one good thing she has for an unrealistic fantasy is the one that will decide who she’ll be the last chapter of her life.

[1] Lesley Manville as Mary. Photo by Simon Mein (c) Thin Man Films Ltd., Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
[2] Left to Right: Jim Broadbent as Tom and Ruth Sheen as Gerri. Photo by Simon Mein (c) Thin Man Films Ltd., Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
[3] Oliver Maltman, Ruth Sheen and Jim Broadbent in Sony Pictures Classics’ Another Year (2010)

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