Another Year Will Give You Seasonal Disaffected Disorder
Another Year, the 10th feature-length British soap written and directed by Mike Leigh, concerns a year in the life of Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen), the happiest post-middle-aged married couple in the whole of the London suburbs. Heading into their fifth decade together, Tom and Gerri are healthy and sufficiently employed, blessed with a thriving community-garden allotment and a good relationship with Joe (Oliver Maltman), their thirtyish son. Theyre evenif a bit of innuendo on the part of Tom that makes Gerri blush is to be believedstill up for the occasional nooner.
Tom and Gerri are so together that its no wonder everyone around them looks like a mess. Theres Toms brother, Ronnie (David Bradley), a morose longhair rendered nearly mute by the death of his wife and the hostility of his grown son, and Toms old school pal, Ken (Peter Wight), a chain-smoking glutton feigning ignorance as to how he ended up old and alone. Featured most prominently (and dealt with by Leigh most troublingly), theres Mary (Lesley Manville), a co-worker of Gerris who regularly imposes upon Gerri and Tom at home, joining the couple for chardonnay-soaked meals that inevitably end with Mary blubbering incoherently about her failed relationships until she passes out in Joes bedroom. In a film full of highly exaggerated performances that intermittently tip into caricature, Manvilles has been the most praised; its also the most grotesque. If this is good acting, then quantity and quality must be synonyms.
Unfolding in four episodes pegged to the seasons, Another Years arc covers the widening gulf between Tom and Gerris entitled contentment, and the increasingly bleak desperation of their family and friends. Ken and Mary, envious of Tom and Gerris bond to one another, seem to regard the couples home as a safe space in which to unloadapparently oblivious to the knowing looks that Tom and Gerri exchange right in front of them. The further the characters are etched, the harder it becomes to figure out with whom Leigh intends us to identify: Tom and Gerris horrible house guests, who you cant help but pity for their clueless concern for only themselves? Or self-appointed Saint Gerri and her even more self-righteous partner, whose care for friends and family is never anything less than condescending?
In fact, the most interesting aspect of Another Year is its slow, subtle shift in perspective. We start out watching Mary behave awfully through the eyes of Gerri and Tom, whose smugness is equally awful (theyre such a unit that to get passive-aggressive, they both have to chip inGerris judgment is passive, Toms aggressive). But by the films final scene, as an unchanged Tom and Gerri finish one anothers sentences when telling an insufferable story about the time they traveled all over the world and didnt even have to do it cheaply, were seeing the scene from the point of view of Mary, whothough humbled by a years worth of disappointment and defeat to the point of being physically depletedis still totally awful, a needy drunk whose self-pity sends out stink waves. I havent seen a film this year that so openly invited me to revile each and every one of its charactersand I reviewed The Human Centipede.
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