The 2010 film Another Year is one of those lovely small films that’s made up of characters who seem real, make you desperately sad, and then leave you contemplating your life and the choices you’ve made.
Mike Leigh (Happy-Go-Lucky, Secrets & Lies, Vera Drake), the Brit who makes a lot of critically-acclaimed stuff, wrote and directed this character-driven drama, and it’s a snapshot of a British family and the friends they spend their days with. Tom and Gerri (ha ha), played by the always comforting Jim Broadbent (Slughorn alert!) and Ruth Sheen, who I admittedly have never seen in anything, are a hippie-ish, kind, genuinely HAPPY AND IN-LOVE couple who spend their days working, having dinner together, and gardening in their huge allotment. It’s sort of boring, but they seem so stable, healthy, and content, I couldn’t help but hope one day something similar would be a possible future for this snarky and disgruntled gal right here. Occasionally, this couple will entertain their friends and family, and the “plot” just follows them all, their hopes, dreams, plans, and disappointments, over the course of a year.
The friends and family featured are Tom and Gerri’s son, Joe, who looks exactly like Keane, Gerri’s co-worker, secretary Mary, and Tom’s brother Ronnie and old friend Ken. With the exception of Joe, these are some SERIOUSLY troubled adults, who have found that life is a difficult, unfair, troublesome game; one they’re about ready to give up on.
I cannot fathom how Lesley Manville was not nominated for an Oscar (and she got denied the damn BAFTA!) for her portrayal of the spastic, twitchy, depressed, drunk, over-compensating, pathetic, pitiful creature who was Mary. My God. What can I even say about this woman? She was almost unbearable to watch – her absolute misery, covered up by non-stop nervous laughter. She’s the kind of person who makes you wonder – are they the way they are due to the cards they’ve been dealt in their life? Or are the cards they’re been dealt due to who they are and the choices they’ve made? My money is on a mix of both. Mary can’t handle anything, and she just drinks and wallows and wallows and drinks until she’s passed out in Joe’s old bedroom and you’re so uncomfortable, you vow to never open a bottle of wine when you’re sad ever again. For the life of me, I can’t even figure out why our solid leads would even invite her over, but Mary is Gerri’s friend, and she and her husband are loving and accommodating towards those in their circle, it’s just how they roll. Manville’s performance is utterly devastating, and the woman she portrays, despite the tragic disaster that she is, is also terribly NORMAL, which makes her all the more depressing. People are actually like this, living like this, taking no responsibility for their lives. Just in general being a black hole of a human being.
Ken (Peter Wight) and Ronnie (David Bradley – FILCH!) are whole other wretched cans of worms. Ken is single, middle-aged, seriously over-weight, and terribly lonely. Watching him devour his dinner, clearly the only happiness he experiences anymore, I think I may have had an actual visible grimace on my face. It only gets worse when he hits on Mary, who BRUTALLY rebuffs him, despite being desperately lonely herself. Ronnie, Tom’s brother, has just lost his wife, in one of those situations where the woman basically did everything and took care of everyone, and the man she has left behind is in essence, an infant. He didn’t even treat her that well when she was here, but at this point he’s nothing but a shell of a man. What is left for him, besides isolation and emptiness?
As is typical for the ol’ character-driven story, not a lot happens here, but said characters are so vivid and real, you will want to spend a couple hours in their company. I found Another Year to be both inspirational and a warning of sorts, as it (and Gerri) keeps hammering home the idea that your life is really only a series of choices that YOU make, no one else. Many of us may eventually slip into the roles of the sad-sacks portrayed here (or are already there, in some form or another), and god help us, to do everything in our power to be the Tom and Gerris of the world, not the Ken and Marys.