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Another Year - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Another Year
Directing: B+
Acting: A
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B
Editing: B

Another Year is kind of an odd little movie, in that it feels very much like an objective slice of life, literally one year's worth, featuring an older, happily married couple and the friends and family who surround them, all in various states of either malcontent or outright misery. It's even split into four sections, each representing one of the seasons. It starts with Spring and ends with Winter.

There are moments when it's tempting to wonder if there's a particular point to this story. But then the performances suck you in, and that becomes the point. If there is any one reason to see this movie, it's the acting. It's stupendous all around.

Director Mike Leigh has a knack for casting talented British actors for his films, and Another Year features several who have been in his previous work. This includes Vera Drake's Imelda Staunton, who appears only in two of the earliest scenes but makes a deep impact. Most notable, though, is Lesley Manville, previously seen as the Social Worker in Secrets & Lies, here playing Mary, a close friend who has worked with Gerri (Ruth Sheen) for twenty years. Mary is a little emotionally unhinged, but always falling just short of seeming outright nuts. Manville delivers with such balanced precision that when the movie ended, a guy sitting in the row behind me said, "She played that part to the hilt!" And he was impressed, rather than sarcastic.

Gerri and Tom are the older couple in question. Ruth Sheen and Jim Broadbent embody them as a couple so comfortably fit together that it's easy to wish they were members of your own family, if not your own parents. They don't really ever fight, although Gerri does gently admonish Tom on occasion if she thinks he's said something a little out of line. They're just incredibly well matched and well-adjusted as individuals, the kind of people very few of us actually know ourselves.

They have a thirty-year-old son, Joe (Oliver Maltman), who somewhat bemuses his parents by taking so long to find a girlfriend. Mary, the longtime friend, has a secret wish to be that person for him, even though she's known him since he was ten and is at least fifteen years older than him. Mike Leigh makes her pining for him obvious to all of us, but strangely, not to anyone surrounding her. Or rather, either Tom, Gerri and Joe have no clue that Mary pines for Joe, or they're simply ignoring it. It's actually rather difficult to tell which it is, and this in particular seems kind of odd.

When Joe finally comes home with a girlfriend and Mary happens to stop by, Mary is devastated. Nobody seems to notice. The only thing Tom and Gerri ever discuss with each other about Mary -- to their credit, never with any particular judgment; only sadness -- is her increasing difficulty controlling herself with alcohol.

But there are other unhappy characters for us to be introduced to, including longtime friend Ken (Peter Wright), a guy so gluttonous with food, cigarettes and beer that it's stifling just to look at him; I don't think there's a single scene he's in without him stuffing his face with one thing or another. Once winter arrives, Tom's sister-in-law dies, and we meet his brother Ronnie (David Bradley, best known as Argus Filch from the Harry Potter films), a semi-twitchy extreme introvert with an estranged son (Martin Savage) who is so angry you're constantly afraid he's going to cause a terrible scene at the memorial service. Instead he just makes everyone supremely uncomfortable.

Another Year does seem to have some trouble deciding on what its focus should be. Everything surrounds Tom and Gerri, but the story in a lot of ways follows Mary the most closely. It's nice, at least, to see that Joe seems to have grown up just as well-adjusted as his parents, and his girlfriend (Karina Fernandez) doesn't appear to be in any way screwed up either. But they all must deal with Mary, as she slowly unravels, until finally Gerri, who up to this point has been far more gentle with her than just about anyone else would be, admits to her that she's "disappointed" in her.

Mary is horrified by this notion, and it's easy to see why. Anyone with half a brain would be thrilled to have Gerri and Tom as friends, especially given their apparent skill at tolerating and sloughing off the bullshit of the people surrounding them. If nothing else, Another Year serves as a comforting reminder of friendship done right; the movie ends, and you find yourself missing them.

A content Ruth Sheen and Jim Broadbent are surrounded by miserable friends and family in 'Another Year'.

Overall: B+
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