Mike Leigh is totally hit and miss with me. Probably more miss than hit. I liked Secrets and Lies, loathed Happy Go Lucky and particularly Sally Hawkins annoying character and performance. And I couldn’t bring myself to watch Vera Drake even though I put it in my Netflix que several times. It just sounded very depressing.
I think that’s the common theme in his movies : life is hard, most people are not good at it. It certainly is the case in Another Year, which I saw at the New York Film Festival a few days ago. But in addition this time we get a couple of characters, Tom and Gerri, who are really good at life. They have been together for over 30 years and have built a good life together, stable and loving. The film is built around several gatherings in a year in which they host their friends and family at different dinners, picnics and even a funeral. And what a motley crew they know. We get the desperate middle aged single woman whose best years are clearly far behind her, Tom’s emotionally stunted older brother and his angry ne’er do well son, the obese may be alcoholic single guy friend and of course their loving well adjusted son Joe.
All these characters sit around, drink and talk while basking in Tom and Gerri’s love. The characters are well drawn out and the interactions and dialogue are sometimes sharp. I get it: it’s an adult movie about life and how we go about it. But does it have to be so boring? Are these characters really worth more than two hours of my life? And why the cruelty in drawing the character of Mary, the middle aged spinster. Not only is she desperate, but she is obviously an alcoholic, she is charmless and always trying to finagle attention from men and above all she is not nice to Tom and Gerri. Can’t she just get a break? Apparently not, only Tom and Gerri and their direct progeny get that.
In the Q and A session after the movie, Leigh said that he wanted to tell a story about caregivers and the people they care for. That’s why Gerri is a counselor and Joe is lawyer and his girlfriend is an occupational therapist. But why the sharp dichotomy between the caregivers and the others. Mary et al have no redeeming qualities whatsoever while Gerri and Tom are so loving, understanding and just better at everything. I like to think human beings are a little bit more complex than that.
The performances are uniformly good. Everyone from Jim Broadbent as Tom and Ruth Sheen as Gerri to the smaller roles are good. Lesley Manville as Mary gets the most memorable character and she digs in deep and comes up with an honest moving performance. I just wish it was not in the service of this despicable character. Manville made me feel for Mary, I wanted to like her but the movie fell short in that it didn’t give any her qualities that would make me like her. Couldn’t she have been a little funny or charming? Why are she and Gerri friends when she is so loathsome? What does Gerri see in her? Is it just Gerri’s innate goodness and desire to take care of wounded souls? There must be more, but it was not on screen.
As for Oscars and awards, this will be catnip for the Academy and critics. The crowd at NYFF loved it and clapped for the movie, Leigh and his cast, who were in attendance, several times. The buzz is already huge. I don’t get it for the movie. But Manville deserves the accolades. I’d say she should go supporting. While she is the most memorable character I felt the story overall was about Tom and Gerri. And that category needs such a strong performance, she might win it.
In the end somewhat well drawn characters, some interesting dialogue and situations but ultimately it falls short. I just could not connect nor care enough.