Mike Leigh continues to impress with a film that gained a rousing applause from the 63rd Cannes Film Festival audience as the final scene faded to black and the credits began to roll. Another Year uses the happy family life of Tom and Gerri (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) in contrast to the lives of their friends around them as they are consistently reminded “sometimes life’s not kind.”
Leigh’s examination is broken up in four parts. As the seasons change on what amounts to another year, this is almost a nature documentary using humans and the obstacles that befall us all as its subject. Life, death and the search for love is a constant in all our lives and they are on display here as the lives of those Leigh chooses to photograph unfold in front of us. After all, you boil any year in any of our lives down to two hours and you may be surprised at how much there is to sort through.
Though the story is told through the lives of Tom and Gerri (a clever bit of naming good for one solid joke), Mary, played with absolute perfection by frequent Leigh collaborator Lesley Manville, is the center of the film. Divorced before she was 30 only to fall in love with, and be left by a married man before she was 40, Mary is a complete wreck. Working as a receptionist at the hospital where Gerri serves as a counselor, her life involves work, after hours drinking and plenty of self-pity.
Additionally, Mary harbors an unrealistic attraction to Tom and Gerri’s son Joe (Oliver Maltman) and can’t stand Tom’s boyhood friend Ken (Peter Wright), a man whose current station in life nearly mirrors Mary’s exactly as he chugs a beer and has a cigarette to his lips before he swallows. For Mary opposites certainly do attract, but her hopes of clinging to the only good things she can find in life will soon have her pushing even those agreeable to her away.
Manville embodies Mary with all her heart. It’s a performance deserving of an Oscar nomination, but I don’t want to sell the rest of the cast short either. As Tom and Gerri, Broadbent and Sheen make for one of the best onscreen couples I have seen in film. With a solid relationship built on trust and love of family, they effortlessly portray the happy couple they’re meant to be.
“Yeah, we are lucky,” Gerri says to Mary early on, and when someone says that you don’t necessary realize what it means until you see it in action, as it is here. And who couldn’t forgive Mary for wanting to be closer to it? She wants some of that happiness to rub off on her. For Gerri to respond to her saying they’re “lucky,” sadly it feeds Mary’s self-pity, leading her to think perhaps she’s just unlucky. Then of course, as the famous saying goes, we make our own luck.
Another Year is yet another triumph for Mike Leigh with a film loaded with excellent dialogue, inviting characters and a director proving you can create tension in a movie merely be filming a family dinner. Leigh continues to impress me with every film of his I see. I have not yet worked through his entire catalog of earlier films, but with each new discovery I am reminded I need to make sure his films are at the top of my Netflix queue.
Another Year is played In Competition at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival and will be competing for the Palm d’Or.