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Another Year (2010)
Another Year is a 2010 British drama film written and directed by Mike Leigh, starring Lesley Manville, Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen. It premiered at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival in competition for the Palme d'Or. It played at the 54th London Film Festival before its general British release date on 5 November 2010. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for best original screenplay. Tom Hepple, a geologist, and Gerri Hepple, a counsellor, are an older married couple who have a comfortable, loving relationship. The film observes them over the course of the four seasons of a year, surrounded by family and friends who mostly suffer some degree of unhappiness. Gerri's friend and colleague, Mary, works as a receptionist at the health centre. She is a middle-aged divorcee seeking a new relationship, and despite telling everyone she is happy, appears desperate and depressed. She often seems to drink too much. The Hepples' only child, Joe, is 30 and unmarried and works as a solicitor giving advice on housing. In the summer the Hepples are visited by Ken, Tom's old friend from his student days. Ken is overweight, eats, smokes and drinks compulsively and seems very unhappy.
Poppy was happy but not without her limits, as evidenced by her growing relationship with Eddie Marsan's barking driving instructor. The central couple in Leigh's latest film, Another Year, is also blindingly happy in their decades of marital bliss but it seems far more impenetrable; they have their limits, too, but we can't even begin to understand how they have maintained what they have. Tom and Gerri, wonderfully played by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen, are the type of people who make their friends wonder: "How do they do it?" Barring the possible chance that a healthy diet of vegetables and fruits from one's own garden cures all romantic ailments, Tom and Gerri's secret remains just that, even when they are lovingly interrogated by their friends at a picnic or intimate dinner.
The picnics and dinners are something of a ritual for the couple, whether it is in honor of a visit from their son, Joe (Oliver Maltman), or a gathering of close friends, including the ones that seem predestined to make a scene. For Tom, this merely means a stop-in from his slovenly buddy Ken (Peter Wight), a lonely, chain-smoking drunk with a protruding gut. For Ruth, however, this means a series of elongated visits from her best friend at work, Mary (Lesley Manville). A chattering, neurotic narcissist who is known for drinking the gross national product of white wine in a single evening, Mary is Leigh's most blatant stab at pathos in a film which takes the most understanding, restrained, and good-humored married couple in the history of cinema as its foundation.
Broken up into seasonal segments, Another Year is told largely through Tom and Gerri but we also come to understand Mary's outlook. Alone, over 40 and harboring deep romantic yearnings for Joe, Mary idealizes Tom and Gerri while also desperately clawing at their happiness, testing and pondering what makes their trains run on time. This leads to heartbreaking ends when a visit from Joe and his fiancé (Karina Fernandez) brings out Mary's green monster and creates a rift between Mary and the objects of her fascination. The time is tragically filled with a funeral (that of Tom's sister-in-law) which concludes with Tom's near-catatonic brother Ronnie (David Bradley of the Harry Potter series) accepting an offer to live with Tom and Gerri for a spell.
Leigh, who once again serves as screenwriter as well as director, builds a great deal of his film out of the simple act of people talking about the vagaries of their minor existences with one another over a good meal. Blessed with a uniformly talented cast, the director once again stresses forgiveness in even the most miserable of positions, making Mary's encounter with Ronnie and heartfelt reconciliation with Gerri especially touching. It's sincerely felt and covers a rough emotional terrain but its structure (namely Tom and Gerri) also make the film's segments feel bracketed and a little predictable. No matter what Mary, Ken or Ronnie might do or feel, Tom and Gerri will always be there, unified in warm acceptance.
Better movies have been made by better filmmakers out of the same ingredients but no one has returned to the British kitchen-sink drama and so consistently and successfully explored its boundaries and nuances. Terence Davies is a possible exception, but his films (all four of them) are less about drama than framing, colors, sound and movement; he's the Terence Malick to Leigh's Robert Altman. Another Year doesn't land with Leigh's best work and inarguably leans on some of his standby moves, but everything here is produced with genuine feeling and unerring wisdom. If these traits were more readily available, Leigh's more repetitive notes would register louder, But as it is, they do little to distract from his overwhelming generosity of spirit.