With the 2010 drama/comedy, Another Year, writer/director Mike Leigh has produced two of my favorite films during this journey. Leigh is a film-maker with plenty of credits to his name, yet I never saw any of his films before the 2008 film Happy-Go-Lucky which I absolutely adored. With his latest effort, Leigh shows that with the right actors and a brilliant script, any plot can be exhilarating.
The film is cut into four chapters going long with the seasons of the year. Our first chapter, titled Spring introduces the audience to the characters to Tom and Gerri, a near retired couple living in London. Gerri is a counselor and Tom is a Geologist and they work together growing fruits and vegetables in a garden. Not long after their introductions, we meet Mary played by Leslie Manville in a performance that rivals Portman, Mulligan, and Hawkins for Best Actress in the 365 in 365 challenge. Mary is a lonely, past her prime woman who longs for the love of a man and desperately wants to join the family Tom and Gerri have put together.
The summer section follows the same characters as Mary begins to make her move into the family of Tom and Gerri as she begins to flirt with Joe, the son of Tom and Gerri. What’s so devastating about the performance of Mary is her facial expressions and the way she can deflate on camera. She reaches the highest of highs in the film and looks near suicidal within minutes of each other and it’s really a sight to behold.
The autumn part of the film is clearly the most difficult to watch. Mary again pops into the lives of Tom and Gerri and is overjoyed when she realizes Joe in also at the house. The only problem is Joe has brought his new girlfriend Katie home to meet his parents. Katie is a bubbly young woman and Mary desperately tries to cut her down in any way possible. The scenes are so wonderfully awkward it makes you sympathetic for all involved.
Finally we have the winter section of the film where Tom visits his brother’s house as his brother’s wife has recently passed away. After the funeral, we’re treated to another scene that left me feeling squeamish as the characters simply have no filters at times and say whatever is on their minds.
While Manville will get the majority of the praise for the film, which she does deserve, I did want to mention the backbone of the film, which are the performances of Jim Broadbent as Tom and Ruth Sheen as Gerri. These are two actors playing mostly thankless roles as Mary is the character that’s flashy with a lot of dramatic acting to do, but that role wouldn’t matter if it wasn’t for these two performances. Tom and Gerri are a couple that I would love to spend time with. They are so warm and inviting, and while they’re older, they still enjoy a few bottles of wine along with some good food. I really could watch another couple hours of just these characters being themselves as they are such good people and are performed so well by these talented actors.
Once again I go back to the Mary character and the chord that she struck with me. She’s the woman that’s middle aged, and her attention is drawn to every little thing she sees in front of her. Working with the general public, I’ve encountered many people such as this and I’ve even given golf lessons to one woman in particular that fits this bill. Again, this is just an astounding performance in a terrific film. Although it’s not a general audience kind of film as there are no car chases and explosions, it’s simply one of the best films I’ve seen in quite a while.