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Four Seasons of Real People
Another Year (DVD)
Member Name: TheChocolateLady
Another Year (DVD)
Advantages: The acting, the direction, the script... you name it!
Disadvantages: Slightly slow but not enough to lose interest in
Director and writer Mike Leigh knows that stories about real people aren't for everyone, but at least he doesn't compromise his art. You won't see him adding spectacular special effects and ignoring things like the script, acting and direction just to make a buck. But that means that movies like "Another Year" won't be considered blockbusters and won't get the box office take or promotional hype because they don't include Hollywood's beautiful people. Instead, Leigh tells us a story using actors that look like ordinary people, in situations that mirror our own.
Here we get Jim Broadbent, who is always a pleasure to watch - he's so human and at ease on screen, you believe everything about him in the part of Tom. Mind you, he always seems to get these lovable characters to play. With him we get Ruth Sheen, who plays Gerri, (and yes, the "Tom & Jerry" joke doesn't go unsaid, but then it wouldn't in real life either), who is just marvelous as Tom's dowdy but comfortable wife and the chemistry she has with Broadbent is perfect. Central to the story is Mary, played by Lesley Manville, looking uncharacteristically disheveled and acting perfectly like a woman who has made far too many mistakes in her life but still can't figure out why her life is such a mess. Here she's now feeling the pain of loneliness so much that she's well on her way to becoming a full-blown alcoholic. Everything is in place with her, from fiddling with her hair when she flirts with a stranger in the pub or even making eyes at her friend Gerri's son.
Leigh's script gives us just enough to understand that this is mostly Tom and Gerri's story. We are given four seasons of a loving couple with so much heart that friends and family can count on them in times of trouble. And come to them they do - almost in droves. They make fun of themselves but never of others, and while we see they know they could do more for their friends, they aren't judgmental or pushy with their opinions. This is pointed up in Tom and Gerri's relationship with their son Joe, played by Oliver Maltman, being one that most parents would love to have - and certainly they deserve it. Even so, a mother is a mother and her hopeful prodding regarding Joe's 30-year old single status will bring a wry smile to anyone's face. But nothing seems to faze them for more than a moment or two, and even when Mary takes a little too much advantage of their hospitality and friendship, they know just how to gently rebuke her. One question we have is why do they put up with her? Being a therapist, Gerri knows Mary needs professional help, but Mary resists, believing Gerri will be enough for her. And to be honest, if you had a friend like Gerri, you would prefer to lean on her too.
That brings us back to the opening of the film that contains a lovely cameo from Imelda Staunton playing Janet, a troubled woman who only wants some sleeping pills since she hasn't slept the night through for almost a year. Her doctor is only willing to give her enough sleeping pills for a week (which makes us think she only wants the pills in order to end it all), and suggests she meet one of their counselors - after which we meet Gerri. This is the set-up for the whole film, which becomes obvious very early on, and is later cemented at the movie's end. This doesn't bother the viewer at all, and essentially leaves us with some bittersweet feelings. One of these is that sometimes, no matter our good intentions and efforts, there are people who just aren't meant to be happy. On the other hand, those of us who truly are happy can be a comfort to these sad folk, without ever rubbing our happiness it in their faces.
While this is a slow moving film, it doesn't seem to drag and little things like Tom & Gerri's trips to their allotment in both rain and shine, or the nervous conversation-stopping lines delivered by Joe's new girlfriend all add to the mixture and give the characters a more rounded appeal. This is shown not only through the lines the actors are given, but in the silences and looks as well - all the more proof that a good director and a cast that work well together don't need fancy window dressing to tell a good story. What's more, this film is both fascinating, and heartwarming in many ways. For instance, in today's world of easy divorce, it is nice to see a couple still together after so many years and still so in tune with each other. What makes this film optimistic is that they are never brought down by the pain of others and rather find personal comfort in comforting those in need. And despite some of the misery shown here through Mary and two other characters, we can be thankful there are still people like Tom and Gerri out there.
This movie got five BAFTA nominations and it wouldn't surprise me if they take some of them home. "Another Year" is superbly acted, carefully directed, perfectly written and probably one of the finest films to come to the screen in a very long time. Moreover it is one that people will always find relevant, and able to enjoy without the need for special eye-wear. Certainly this deserves five stars out of five and is highly recommended.
Davida Chazan © December 2010
This will be released on February 28th 2011, and is available for pre-order on Amazon for £10.99.
Summary: Mike Leigh's latest film is another fascinating study of real people and real life.