Another Year directed by Mike Leigh
The story centers around long term married couple Tom and Gerri – played with effortless style by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen respectively; married for 30 years at least, they have remained happily married and continue to lead a normal and content life with each other.
Their unblemished, balanced and simple marital bliss becomes the perfect backdrop against which throughout the course of one year, we see friends and family enter and disappear, each of their stories unfolding with a higher or lesser degree of heartbreak, failed realizations and various personal issues.
One of the most prominent figures in this medley is Mary played by Lesley Manville who steals the show as far as I'm concerned; she is absolutely superb and for me one of the most amazing performances I've ever seen. Heartbreakingly funny but also infuriatingly childish, naïve and irresponsible. Too keen to escape her reality and obvious problems through alcohol and cigarettes, she chooses to stick close to the golden couple, a social crutch of sorts, who have come to represent her own vision and in many ways a universal one too of personal bliss. Sadly in this instance, that vision terribly unfulfilled.
It is through this loneliness that Mary becomes ready to latch on to any embodiment of a possible “saviour” which in this case seems to materialise in the shape of Tom and Gerri's only son Joe ( Oliver Maltman ) . Their casual banter is totally misinterpreted by Mary which in turn creates the perfect recipe for disaster and more sentimental woes when Joe brings home his new girlfriend. We see Mary transform from the sweet natured albeit ditzy and vulnerable woman to cantankerous and horribly rude thus creating a rift between her and the only meaningful connection she still has left.
I had many moments throughout the course of this film where I kept thinking “please God let me not end up like that” I couldn't bear it and the phrase “life's so unkind” was mentioned enough to stay with me for a few days but there are many many funny moments here and they are truly delightful, most of them are born from the subtleties that Leigh, the master that he is, captures and the actors create through their performances and all in all they serve to remind that life is also funny.
Ending on a single frame of Mary's sad expression, those sparkly blue eyes that seem to shelter such deep unhappiness and a want for her own place in the sun, leaves a lasting bittersweet taste in your mouth and it's hard to not question one's own destiny when you're left with that haunting image on the screen.
Still, I would totally recommend this film as painful as it might be to watch at times. It's a great character study and the seemingly low key direction is a wonderful testament to the genius that is Mike Leigh as well as his actors and crew.