Dir. Mike Leigh. UK. 2010.

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Unlike most Hollywood films that mainly depict the lives of quirky young, well-to-do suburbanites, Mike Leigh's Another Year, shows a mature, apparently well-matched, and devoted couple that has been together for 35 years and their efforts to offer solace to their not so fortunate friends. The film is divided into four segments, each describing one of the four seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. Leigh's Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen) show begins when Gerri, a medical counselor, attempts to minister to Janet, a sleep-deprived, depressed older woman (Imelda Staunton) without any emotional response. 

“On a scale of 1 to 10”, she asks the patient, “How would you rate your happiness?” The answer not surprisingly is a “One”, but Janet refuses to discuss her personal life any further and Gerri is left in a state of frustration. Though we never see Janet again, this episode sets the gloom scale for the entire film as moderate to high. Another Year tests our tolerance of unsympathetic characters to the limit. Normally, those in a healthy relationship want to surround themselves with others that reflect their own space, but the fact that Tom and Gerri do not is either a jarring incongruity, or belies the fact that they have everything so together. 

Gerri's husband Tom is a 60-something Geological Engineer and, contrary to the popular Hollywood notion that all families are dysfunctional, his relationship with his wife seems to work. They actually talk to each other, make jokes, tend to their garden where they grow organic food, and communicate well with their only child, Joe (Oliver Maltman), an unmarried 30-year-old attorney who works with poor people. Tom and Gerri entertain quite often and one of their regular visitors is Mary who is performed by Leslie Manville as almost a caricature of a neurotic. Mary is a woman of about fifty years of age who works in Gerri's office as a receptionist. She is divorced and dresses in a provocative way to appear younger than she is in order to attract men. 

Though she seems at first like a bundle of energy talking about how content she is and how much she values her independence, with the passing of each season, it becomes clearer that she is a very lonely and depressed alcoholic who is in desperate need of companionship, and her woes gradually take over the film. The parade of sad loners continues when the Tom and Gerri bring Ken (Peter Wight), an old friend of Tom's to stay with them for a short visit. Ken is single, overweight and has a drinking problem reflected on the T-shirt he wears to their home “Less Thinking, More Drinking”, a slogan that might be used to describe the entire film. 

Ken is unable to find a partner to be with and, like Mary, is full of debilitating self pity and a negative self image. Ken makes an effort to interest Mary in himself, but she pushes him away, though she has no qualms about flirting with Joe even though he is dating Katie (Karina Fernandez), a bubbly Occupational Therapist. Without subtlety or nuance, Mary jealously gives Katie dirty looks and treats her rudely. Like many people who believe that happiness lies in accumulating things, Mary buys a used car and this makes her happy, at least for a few days, until the car acts up, she gets lost a few times, and collects parking tickets. 

Things go downhill from there when the wife of Tom's uncommunicative brother Ronnie (David Bradley) dies suddenly. At the family gathering afterwards, Mary drops in without phoning first and sadly seeks a relationship with the distraught and uncommunicative Ronnie and the mood of the film turns from bearably dark to unbearably darker. On the surface, Tom and Gerri show their caring by wanting to be there for their friends and give them someone to lean on; however, it never dawns on them that some tough love may be needed instead of condescension. 

Neither Gerri nor Tom confronts their friends by reminding them that they have the ability to transform their life if they would only wake up to their own strengths and end their self pitying act before it is too late. The only help Gerri suggests is for Mary to “try a culture holiday” for a change of pace. Neither attempt to put any limits on their friends' drinking habits, always offering them just “one more” and incongruously allowing Mary to drive Ken and her only son to the train station after she has had a few drinks. Another Year is an energy drainer, a “feel bad” bleak fest almost from start to finish with only a few moments of comic relief. The only real joy I felt was in finally seeing the end credits roll. 

Howard Schumann


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