“Another Year” is just what its title suggests — a close look into the passing of yet another year through the lens of the lives of an aging couple.
At the Michigan
Sony Pictures Classics
Tom (Jim Broadbent, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1”) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen, “Heartless”) go about their lives happily. They work in their garden, cook dinner and gather around the table with various friends and relatives. By no means are their lives a fairy tale, but somehow, that makes the reality of another year in our own lives unbearable. Tom and Gerri never suffer. Neither one seems to have the usual arthritic pains that come with old age. Their single concern is that their only son hasn’t settled down yet. Like the coupling of their names, Tom and Gerri, their life together has a cartoonish ring to it.
At the same time, the passing of a year in their lives is devoid of any sort of spark or passion. Their happiness is somewhat mediocre and hollow, especially when it’s contrasted with the train wrecks around them. It doesn’t seem possible for Tom and Gerri to sustain themselves when the people they fill their lives with are all on the verge of collapse. At the very least, they should want to reach out to the surrounding world, share the secret of their happiness to somehow ease the pain of their friends.
Tom and Gerri’s friend Mary (Lesley Manville, “A Christmas Carol”) is a needy desperate alcoholic who clings disgustingly to any man who gives her attention. Ken (Peter Wight, “Womb”) is Tom’s childhood friend but is now bent on destroying himself through his overeating, smoking and drinking. Ronnie (David Bradley, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1”), Tom’s older brother, is consumed with grief after the death of his wife and stares blankly at walls all day.
It’s these characters, though, that make the movie so poignant. Manville’s portrayal of Mary is particularly enthralling. As hard as it is to watch her wallow through her glasses of wine and rant about the men who have left her, she’s likable and it makes it that much harder when her situation never changes over the course of the year. Ronnie, Ken and Mary are the ones who provide humor; their characters, unlike Tom and Gerri, can laugh at themselves. But they are the ones that are lost in a flurry of melancholy.
Perhaps what makes “Another Year” so haunting is that none of the characters deserving happiness get it. Tom and Gerri don’t particularly seem to warrant the quaint little lives they’ve dug out for themselves. It’s this quest for happiness in an unjust world that director Mike Leigh (“Happy-Go-Lucky”) dwells on the most. And this theme gives the movie a sort of elusive quality. Leigh never makes clear why some of his characters are deserving of happiness and why others aren’t. As realistic as his portrayal and his perspective is, it’s hard not to want some kind of an answer or at least a satisfactory resolution. This feeling of unending suffering makes “Another Year” a little hard to endure, especially in the doldrums of a Michigan winter.