! = recommended
* = all-ages
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Beginning in the Spring, Mike Leigh’s latest study of the human condition takes us through four seasons in the life of happy older couple Tom and Gerri, their son, Joe, and their seriously fucked-up friends. As a whole, Another Year is a fascinating portrait of everyone you’ve known or will know at some point—including some things you’ll most likely recognize in yourself.
Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen are (of course) instantly likeable as leads Tom and Gerri. They adorably cook, cuddle, garden, drink wine and discuss how to help their friends solve problems. At the risk of sounding like a total sap, I found myself smiling every time they were on screen together because I liked imagining my boyfriend and I being in the same emotionally content place some years down the road.
But this film isn’t just about sweet couple-y moments. There’s a cavalcade of issues on screen, from the commitment variety to alcoholism, depression, and strained family relationships. Tom’s old friend Ken can barely function, his brother Ronnie is housebound, and then there’s Lesley Manville as Mary—who was extremely hard to watch.
Mary is every woman’s not-so-secret fear: a lady in her 50s who refuses to admit she’s growing old, is obsessed with finding a man, is so unhappy that she puts on a fake smile and drowns her sorrows in bottles of wine; so envious of her friend’s happiness that she radiates jealously; and so desperate that she makes a play (albeit, a very weak one) for her best friend’s son. She’s the biggest train wreck I’ve ever seen, and yet I recognized how she was feeling and immediately sympathized.
The takeaway is that ultimately to be happy, you have to be willing to move on and focus on the good things around you (a point illustrated beautifully by Imelda Staunton, in a cameo as a woman even more bitter and unhappy than Mary). A lesson that’s so simple, but also SO hard to remember when we’re wallowing in self-pity.
Overall, I loved how real this movie felt. No pretense or heavy-handed messages. Every heart-crushing situation is balanced out with humor and joy, just like real life. Another year, another 100 things to celebrate and mourn—and another film that makes me appreciate how good cinema can make me feel.