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Mike Leigh's latest film Another Year follows the story of a happily
married couple approaching their retirement years. Their warm
relationship offers them security as the the film progresses. Their
friends and family, by contrast, all struggle to some extent with
unhappiness, and a sense that their best years may be behind them.
The film is a story of ageing; the small events that can make life either comforting or unbearable; and the refuge that companionship can offer.
Rut Sheen's role as Gerri is superb. Her open, welcoming face invites her friend and colleague Mary (played by Lesley Manville) to open up to her about her drunken fears of where her life is leading. Jim Broadbent's Tom is charming and self-effacing, confident in his own happiness yet nonplussed at the failure of his friend Ken Peter Wight to come to terms with growing old.
The film dwells on the small, predominantly non-verbal signals that reveal emotional and social insecurity. Leigh's direction reminds us that the sharpest insights into character lie in moments where we think we at our most concealed. Faces betray what we wish were kept private at moments where verbal communication fails, physical expression lights up hidden fears, passions, failings and desires.
Leigh treats all his characters with a certain dignity whilst there are moments where we are encouraged to laugh at their social inadequacies, for the most part we suffer along with them, knowing that their experiences are all too near reality to take lightly. We encourage Tom and Gerri to keep supporting their despairing friends, yet knowing at the same time that their married happiness can only serve to mock their friends' lonely lives further. The four strictly partitioned seasons of the film point towards a growing anxiety that it may in fact be too late for these lost characters. The cyclical nature of the structure suggests that there is no real remedy for those left unloved and lonely at the film's conclusion.
From the opening scene, where a woman silently struggles to recollect the happiest moment in her life, to the point when the dialogue slowly fades away to leave Mary isolated and forlorn, we cannot help but be both enchanted and dismayed by the emotional honesty of Mike Leigh's characters. This is what sets out the director as a truly gifted artist his ability to heighten the routine into the dramatic; and to make the trivial, truly tragic.
Tom and Gerri (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen), the couple at the centre
of Mike Leigh's latest existential piece, couldn't be more unlike the
cartoon characters who share their names. Together for several decades,
their love for each other has only grown. I wouldn't complain if my
marriage looked like theirs when I'm in my 50s.
When he isn't working as a geologist and she isn't counselling people, they spend their time providing solace to those who need it Ken (Peter Wight), a straight-talking, John Smiths-drinking Yorkshireman; Ronnie (David Bradley), Tom's laconic brother whose wife has just died; and most of all Mary (Lesley Manville), a jittery colleague of Gerri's in the middle of a mid-life crisis. It is Mary who dominates the film and who most elicits our empathy. She is without love and possibly even without the hope of love. It is genuinely painful to see her disintegrate scene by scene.
As another year in Tom and Gerri's life unfolds, we see nothing particularly fascinating happen. They tend to their allotment, they invite people to their house for food and company, and they reminisce about their experiences. Nothing could be more trivial, right? Wrong. This film is about growing old and making the right choices as one gets to old age. Above all it's about recognising that happiness is less a right than an aspiration.
The word 'integrity' comes to mind when I think of Mike Leigh. Who else could convince actors to sign up to films where there was no script to begin with? Throughout his career he has eschewed the Hollywood system and has done things his own way ('Given the choice of Hollywood or poking steel pins in my eyes, I'd prefer steel pins').
An audience member expostulated at the end, 'That wasn't very uplifting'. She's correct, but Leigh doesn't offer folly or fantasy. He's a truth-seeking social observer and commentator. What's also appealing about Leigh is that he doesn't spoon-feed his audience. His films compel the watcher to debate what they have seen and draw their own conclusions. Why should films give us answers?
I was moved by this film like no other in recent memory. One moment I was laughing uncontrollably, the next I was holding back tears. The film emphasises a sad fact: for some people, things don't always go according to plan. Sometimes we're just plain unlucky. And that's life.
This is a big movie tackling big themes, and may, like Happy-Go-Lucky
(Mike Leigh's previous film) prove extremely Marmitish. The latter
comment may prove hard to understand if you're not British, and that's
just like the film (Marmite is a British spread made from yeast extract
with a love-it-or-hate-it umami/savoury/salty flavour). Another Year
deals with a particularly British form of social breakdown and
In Britain, from the 40s to the 70s there was widespread use of an exam system called the 11+. Up until the age of 11-12 students were schooled together, after that point, students considered to have more potential by the standards of the 11+ examinations were streamed separately in Grammar Schools, prepared for success, whilst those below the boundary line were sent to Secondary Modern Schools where the focus was much more on practical education (bricklaying, "home economics", woodwork, etc). The legacy of this system has been huge social resentment. There is a feeling in Another Year that the system is back, in the form of university education. With the UK attempting to educate 50% of the secondary school student population to university level, a socially engineered bifurcation to haves and have-nots is being created once again.
All of the characters in the film are from working class backgrounds and yet the fortunes that life has graced them with are distinctly uneven, they have gone in different directions, absent any idea of a shared experience that may have been the rock of previous generations of Britons. Graduates Tom and Gerri (pun intended) have fulfilling careers, heartfelt love for one another, high incomes, and have had the opportunity to travel widely. Tom's brother and Gerri's friend Mary are aging and alone, undereducated, lacking in the kind of accomplishments that are social currency, living with hurt, and in Mary's case, desperation. The message is not all one way, old friend of the family Ken is also a graduate and yet has not managed to find a place in life either.
Scenes in the movie almost exclusively concern Tom and Gerri's catering to this group of friends and family. They deal with the misfortunes of this circle with a mixture of humour, irony, good cooking and alcohol, but mostly conceal their compassion and are helpless onlookers.
The mating game is key here, the unwedded 40+s exist in a state of unsalved distress, futureless, scrapped. Even 30-year-old Joe, functional, graduate, well-employed and witty has struggled to find someone to be with. A notable absence in the movie is a sense of solidarity, community, public events, shared lives and shared values. There's an illiquidity in the relationships marketplace, a lack of feeling and connection, all leading to a general anomie and social constipation.
However painful the lives of Ken and Mary are, the film gives occasional glimpses of far more infernal lives, lower circles of hell where dissatisfaction has paralysed characters with rage or utter resignation. Anything more than a glimpse would have made the film unwatchable.
Gone are the days when WWII veterans would whimper their way through night-times of post-traumatic hallucination for forty years without mentioning it to a soul, however the British "stiff upper lip" still remains as a guiding principle in this movie. There is still very much the assumption that one should keep one's private hell to oneself, or else outsource emotion to a therapist.
What may be controversial in the film is the way you look at how Tom and Gerri treat Mary. A German lady in the audience voiced her opinion to Mike Leigh that the way they treated her was to look down on her, and that she felt this was inappropriate. Mike Leigh responded that the lady felt like this because she was a German and Germans did not understand irony. Maybe I suffer from the same problem because I for one felt that Mary was treated as little more than a baby, and with a certain hauteur, arms-length love. I think people who are lonely need to feel useful. Mary for example was never allowed to help with anything, though this does not excuse her, at times, appalling behaviour (depression makes people selfish, however I feel it necessary to point out as well that someone who is drowning in a river and calling for a life ring, is also being "selfish" in the same way, and I think metaphorically the position is very similar).
Dour joyless watching, maybe one for the Cabinet to watch, after the example of the film La Haine, which concentrated on French malaise and was screened in front of the French cabinet at the instigation of Prime Minister Alain Juppé.
In Mike Leigh's new slice of life, Another Year, a married couple who
have managed to remain blissfully happy into their crumbling autumn
days are surrounded over the course of the four seasons of one
seemingly average year by friends, colleagues, and family, many of whom
appear to suffer some degree of unhappiness or at least confusion. The
film is nicely segmented into chapters, following the seasons. All of
life is there - from birth, to a funeral. Strangely, or conveniently,
given the apparently troubled lives all round, She works as a
psychotherapist, while He builds things, but both spend their spare
time together growing vegetables in their allotment. Mary, the
secretary in her clinic, takes over the centre of the story as she
gradually moves into more of everyone's lives. Or perhaps it's just
that the film gradually opens up the relationship that was already
there. Just as it is with all the extra characters. As it's a Mike
Leigh film, all the actors will all have been living "in character" for
maybe six months before breezing through, stirring up the plot with
their back story and emotional infrastructure.
Lesley Manville, as Mary, the lonely and unstable girl of a certain age - 40, going on 17, really steals this in the final part, which gets even more intense than the rest of it. One thing I noticed right away was that adding to the intensity of the Mike Leigh close-ups, it's all shot in high-definition digital. But in the end it's the total effect that works. The apparent non-acting. The marvellous thing about Leigh is the way he shows really ordinary people doing really ordinary things and makes them really important. He is so compassionate towards everyone in his stories. You just can't help caring, too.
Lesley Manville as Mary truly deserves the Best Actor Oscar for her
perfectly nuanced, scary and convincing portrayal of a woman on the
brink of personal desperation due to her many life mistakes and to her
extremely fragile emotional nature that served to spiral her further
and further down toward mental illness with every romantic
disappointment and life mistake she made. Honestly, I do not think
Meryl Streep could have played this role as well. Lesley was that great
in it. An astounding performance, and so touching, as you felt every
pain Mary felt due to Lesley's spot-on interpretation of her
character's neediness and weaknesses and what they cost her.
This film tells a story(by the 4 seasons)of a year in the lives of a UK couple and their friends. Mary is a secretarial co-worker and friend of Gerri, a professional counselor and the sweet wife of her well-rumpled and very likable engineer/geologist husband, Tom(yes, Tom and Gerri). Mary is the woman we all know at some time or another in our lives.... a woman too attractive to always be alone but always is alone after every failed attempt at a relationship, always suffering badly from each failure to find what she wants so badly.
Not much of an intricate plot here, as in all Mike Leigh films, but the story was such an absorbing and typical Mike Leigh take on the day-to-day happenings in the ordinary and everyday lives of a normal UK couple and some at-risk friends. Tom and Gerri were the couple with these friends in various states of decline, and they always tried hard through their gentle patience, understanding and humor to help them and always be there for them. Ruth Sheen and the great Tom Broadbent played the wife/husband roles to perfection, and were so loving, likable and comfortable with each other and with friends that you wished you had them for your own friends. Wonderful portrayals, both.
See this film for engaging personal interaction and for the best acting performance of 2010, but be prepared for your own uncomfortable and awkward feelings throughout due to Mary's many sufferings and how her endless tales of them affected her(long-suffering)friends. It was a truly human story, sometimes warm and funny, sometimes pathetic and difficult to watch, but at the end you knew you had seen acting greatness.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I think Mike Leigh has delivered a masterpiece without really knowing what he has done. Another Year sets out to give a narrative about middle age and growing old with a group of characters that appear to be very British and very set in their ways. Mike Leigh attempts to show the pain of ageing and the idea that one can grow old gracefully in companionship or grow old unhappily in singleton and with a whole array of problems that have never been addressed. He really captures the loneliness. But without really intending to - he has exposed the disappointments of the baby boomer generation who had so much to live for and settled for so very little as age came upon them. The film also exposes the barren and empty society that we live in where everything revolves around meaningless social gatherings where people talk about nothing except superficiality over gallons of wine. Tom and Gerri seem to have a very loving relationship and are caring enough to invite people over for dinner who are out on a limb. They are kind but patronising. Gerri is a counsellor and she is really kind but in a way that is so British - kind but never really getting to the heart of friendship or intimacy with a person besides her husband. Politically correct to a point of total annoyance. Her husband is gregarious and helpful but also very limited in his outlook. Lesley Manville (a fantastic performance) plays Mary, who once must have been a ditsy but very sexy young thing who has a history of failed relationships and a drinking problem. Other characters come in from time to time, friends and relatives and all of them have MASSIVE problems, problems in relating, in alcoholism, in just about anything. Tom and Gerri's son is as patronising as his parents and has a girlfriend who is again very 'good' but excruciatingly boring. What does the film actually portray? A very intense focus on these characters in a series of social gatherings set over a year, dinners, lunches, a funeral, work and oh yes, going to the allotment, the pace is slow and penetrating. However, it is also very boring in places because the people are so very dull themselves. There is no hope in this film - the backdrop of British society where no one really talks about problems (can you imagine it takes Gerri, a counsellor, 20 years to get to the point of telling Mary she needs professional help although she has been talking behind her back for all of this time). I found Another Year, very depressing and a sad indictment about British society which is Dead Dead Dead as far as human connection is concerned. No truth, no honesty, no spirit and no connections from the heart. Only people playing their parts and waiting to grow old, and certainly no possibility to come closer to change their lives for the better as to talk as true friends in this type of society is a fate worse than death as far as they are concerned. They all seemed dead in the midst of life.
A strange and sad little film beautifully acted by its ensemble cast.
Lesley Manville's agonised performance as Mary, aching with envy at the
solidity and comfort of her best friend's solid marriage, must be a
shoo-in for awards next year, but Ruth Sheen is also 100% believable as
the endlessly patient, almost 'saintly' Gerri. Jim Broadbent's Tom
teeters on the verge of hamminess, allowing Peter Wight to steal the
male acting honours as Ken, another lonely and alcoholic divorcée.
After a sad Spring and a prickly Summer, Autumn brings romance to Tom and Gerri's bachelor son and Winter brings a funeral (not the one we've been dreading). Anchored by the couple's devotion to their allotment, Mike Leigh gives us a film about the seasons in our lives as well as in our vegetable patches. In life, as in the garden, some things flourish and blossom while others wither and decay.
Often humorous but mostly achingly sad, this is a very fine film about the Ordinary Lives of Ordinary People. Not to be missed.
Greetings again from the darkness. How DARE he? Mike Leigh is such a
non-compliant filmmaker. He just refuses to follow the rules ... and
film goers are the benefactors of his daring. Mind you, his daring is
not in the regards of special effects, stunt work or trick photography.
No sir. His daring is with the subject, theme, tone and characters. He
is ... GASP ... unafraid of real people! If you have seen Mr. Leigh's
work in "Happy-Go-Lucky" or "Vera Drake", you understand that his films
can be simplistic on the surface, while carrying multiple layers of
commentary and observations. He also has the classic British sense of
humor in that very few "punchlines" exist. Instead the humor comes in
allowing the viewer to recognize the characters as someone they know,
or God forbid, even their own self!
Mr. Leigh has a history of making films without a script ... only broad based outlines for the characters. The actors then work to fill in the details of the individuals, which in turn, forms a story. This explains why the story does not follow the traditional arc. In fact, the story has no real beginning or ending. What we see are the interactions of people who are friends, relatives, co-workers, acquaintances and strangers.
The foundation of the film, as well as the foundation for most of the other characters in the film, is the happily married couple of Tom and Gerri, played by the terrific Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen. This is a couple who not only love and respect each other, but also enjoy being together. Their friends and family come in and out of their lives, but their bond is strong.
Key amongst this group is their friend, and Gerri's co-worker, Mary (Lesley Manville). Mary is someone we all recognize. She is single, not getting any younger, desperately trying to avoid loneliness (too often with a bottle), masking her fear through fake excitement, and latched onto the security blanket offered by Tom and Gerri's friendship.
When family friend Ken (Peter Wight) makes a move on Mary, she shuns him because of his lack of perfection. She always thinks she can do better. When she begins fixating on Tom and Gerri's son Joe (Oliver Maltman), we really feel her pain but just want to slap some sense into her. The relationships all take a hit when Mary shows up for dinner and is introduced to Joe's new girlfriend ... a wonderfully charming and talented Katie (Karina Fernandez). Mary acts the selfish fool and it drives a wedge between she and Gerri. There is even a line of dialogue earlier on ... never come between a mother and her son! Another character we are witness to includes the great Imelda Staunton as a depressed middle-aged woman who comes to Gerri for professional guidance. We also meet David Bradley as Tom's older brother, Ronnie, whose wife has recently passed.
All of these situations and personalities are balanced by Tom and Gerri as they provide a stable environment ... it's as if they are a fountain of sanity from which everyone wishes to drink. As an added touch, none of the characters are Hollywood beauties. Broadbent and Ms. Sheen would never be mistaken for Brad and Angelina. Rather they are more likely to look like someone you know ... and better yet, their characters live like people you WANT to know. So again I ask ... How dare he?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie touches upon current sociological and psychological
conditions that result to alienation and loneliness. The theme repeats
itself on the problematic characters of a group of friends in their
50s, namely Ken and Mary as well as Tom's brother. They all resort to
alcohol but that is the side effect of their problem, not the root
cause. There is an unfortunate equation between single people and
despair. This bias is expressed also in the story of the couple's son,
who seems to worry during the time he is single and who 'has it made'
once he finds a girl who assumes his parents' acceptance and
friendship, admits she is starving to people she just met (no manners)
and licks her fingers (no manners). Meanwhile Tom and Gerry are the
voice of reason and somehow, I felt they were also Mike Leigh's voice.
Of course, as others here have mentioned, their portrayal may not be
seen as virtuous as I have perceived it. There is a certain coldness
within their kindness about them just as cold as the way the priest
received the late-coming son of the deceased woman at the funeral.
Mary who is at the centre of the film, is a pile of trouble. She is turned down by Tom and Gerry's ugly son and Tom's socially handicapped brother, only to get attention from fat and alcoholic Ken. In a desperate move to celebrate her independent life rather than mourn for her loneliness, she buys a car but that only becomes a source of more trouble. As if Leigh wants to tell us that no car can give her the happy life of a married couple who live in harmony cultivating their veggies. The question that floats in the air can be whether her unbalanced character has caused her loneliness or vice versa. What keeps this film together are the masterful indoor scenes, the convincing dialogues and the top notch acting. Careful considerations have been made in how people act in their everyday lives and that has been extraordinarily engaging.
A happily married couple is followed over the changing seasons. The
portray is that of harmony, love and togetherness. This is as perfect
as it gets. Then we get introduced to their friends who are frequently
invited for dinner and drinks. They all have something in common :
Broken marriages, alcoholism and self denial. The contrast couldn't be
more surreal. Especially Mary, who is longing for love and friendship.
Her emotional hurt is tangible.
This movie is not about the couple or anything else, it is about Mary and her shambolic life, the pain that she derives from loneliness and her utter failure to get her life back together. Brilliantly and stunningly directed by Leigh, this is a masterpiece of portraying a character that will be, strikingly and tragically, all too familiar with most of us.
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