Another Year

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter

         
 

05 January 2011| No Comments     by Sean Chavel

 

Empathetically lasting and only rarely annoying. If you want to take observation of how a married couple manages to remain happy after thirty-plus years together, you might want to check out Another Year. Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen play an issues-free couple who get by on daily affirmations and hugs of encouragement. They patiently put up with assorted friends who are love-starved and problem-prone, i.e., acquaintances who haven’t carved a satisfying life out for themselves. Mike Leigh films (“Vera Drake,” “All or Nothing,” “Secrets and Lies”) in general are a whole lot of the same but they do usually have an interesting agenda. Nobody should feel they have to go see all of his movies but I think people should at least two or three works by him, and this one might as well be one of them. Actually, this portrait of refined marriage between two old lovebirds makes it different from the filmmaker’s other didactic working class pictures. Serious lovers of aesthetics will also want to take note that it finishes on one great, haunting final shot. This is no party-time entertainment, but rather one for quiet reflection.

It begins with a medical-psychological interview as Dr. Gerri (Ruth Sheen, wonderful and wise) urges for the very depressed Janet (Imelda Staunton) to come back for a follow-up. “Can you recall when you were happiest in your life?” Surprisingly, Gerri and Janet are not meant to connect. In our minds, perhaps the contrast between people who live for joy and people who live for self-pity is thematically underlined in this first scene, thus, its purpose.

Gerri and her husband-geologist Tom (Jim Broadbent), in their sixties perhaps, are always happy-go-lucky (“Happy-Go-Lucky” also the title of Leigh’s most jaunty film). Gerri and Tom age are satisfied with themselves, despite sagging body parts, while everyone around them is not. Secretary Mary (Lesley Manville), for one, masquerades her unhappiness with booze, phony pronouncements and ego-boasting embellishment. She has issues, but Gerri and Tom peel their ears to patiently listen to her even when they tire of her.

Dividing the film into four seasonal chapters, Leigh takes a snapshot of a few crucial days within the year. Noteworthy motif: Gerri and Tom always begin the season it seems planting in their garden. Lissome and lively they conduct themselves. They keep active, and you would hardly guess that they would allow themselves to get creaky and lazy.

Starting in the Spring, Gerri and Tom open their home to Mary for dinner where they have to withstand her bad boozing habits. In the Summer, we see Gerri and Tom throwing a barbeque for their closest friends. Mary has a car now (but she’s inept with it), and she gets drunk and makes passes at thirty year old Joe, son of Gerri and Tom. This is when everybody realizes that Mary reeks of desperation. In the autumn, at the house again, we observe Mary’s seething jealousy of Tom who is now blissfully attached to a perky young woman. We wonder, do the others notice Mary’s seething jealousy? Will they still let Mary, this sloppy and rude social embarrassment into their home again? Gerri and Tom are always known for being a little too hospitable.

In the winter, the scene opens up at a funeral and you have to look and lean in very close to find out who deceased. When you do, you learn that it was no character of any bearing. Leigh would rather you reckon at how Gerri and Tom stand up to, well, the sorrowful news of a funeral. Returning home, they have an unwelcome encounter. They get past the unpleasantness and hold dinner. The mise-en-scen (the visual framework composition) is very important in the final shot, isolating one character within the frame. Others are talking, one is alone and implied to stay on the pathway of loneliness indefinitely.

This old couple is in love with each other. But the heart lights up during scenes featuring Ruth Sheen (I had flashes of joy when I saw her smile big). You imagine she could write her own book on the secret to happiness. Lovely as Sheen’s moments are, the film has its overly negative doses, too. And Leigh is so steadfast for naturalism that he draws scenes out with epic coffee table dialogue. If you got patience though, see it.

129 Minutes. Rated PG-13.

DRAMA / ADULT ORIENTATION / SPRING AWAKENING

Film Cousins: “On Golden Pond” (1981); “Mr. & Mrs. Bridge” (1990); “Secrets & Lies” (1996, Great Britain); “Happy-Go-Lucky” (2008, Great Britain).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.

 

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