BY ROBERT HAMMERLE, guest contributor to Hammervision
“Another Year” can best be described as one of those films whose artistic whole does not equal the sum of its collectively intriguing parts. Filled with several genuinely inspired performances, it devolves into a rather sour portrayal of the aging process.
Mike Leigh’s film revolves around the lives of Tom and Gerri, a well-adjusted married couple living in London. Both in their 60’s, they have somehow managed to age gracefully as literally all of their close friends fall prey to the ravages of time.
Tom, a geologist, is a loving husband, a caring father and a loyal friend to the group of misanthropic misfits that form his social circle. He is played by the enormously gifted Jim Broadbent, who as usual dazzles in small, unassuming ways. He is every bit as convincing here as he was as the unfaithful husband in the enchanting “Enchanted April” (1992); as Gilbert to Allan Corduner’s Sullivan in “Topsy-Turvy” (1999); the caring impresario Harold Zidler in the spectacular musical “Moulin Rouge” (2001); the homicidal inspector Frank Butterman in the wonderful comedy “Hot Fuzz” (2007) and as Colin Firth’s unintentionally domineering father in the powerful “When Did You Last See Your Father?” (2007). What a wonderful actor.
Gerri, Tom’s empathetic wife, is played in a perfectly understated fashion by Ruth Sheen, and together they formed a lifelong bond of love and friendship that is both warm as it is very real. They treat each other with grace and dignity, and this gives “Another Year” a very tender heart beating at its core.
However, as the movie plays out with references to the four seasons of the year, it becomes apparent that Tom and Gerri’s friends have fallen victim to life’s cruel vagarities. Clearly, Mr. Leigh does not take a kind view of mankind’s golden years.
In particular, there are two powerful performances by Peter Wright and Leslie Manville, who play the emotionally ship wrecked friends of Tom and Gerri. They both drink and smoke way too much, obviously trying to mask the depression flowing from lives where opportunity has passed them by.
Mr. Wright is quite moving as Ken, an overweight, sad sack friend who pines for the excitement of his long ago lost youth. Divorced and alone, he borders on the pathetic and he tragically knows it.
However, Ms. Manville dominates this film as Mary, the wine swilling, alcoholic friend who exists in a transparently damaged emotional state that is woefully apparent to everyone but herself. Like Ken, she clings to her relationship with Tom and Gerri, hoping to vicariously experience some shred of happiness that long ago disappeared from her own life.
While there is a lot to like about Leigh’s film, it gradually mutates into an unfortunate depressing state that is as uncomfortable to watch as it was unsatisfying to experience. Mr. Leigh seems to suggest that life in the end is cruel to the extreme, and we might as well resign ourselves to heartache, loneliness and disappointment. It’s not just that the aging process is unkind, it’s that life stacks the deck against all of us.
In trying to analyze this film, I must issue a disclaimer in the interest of full disclosure. At the age of 64, I sat in the handicapped section of the theater, my broken leg resting on an adjoining seat. Knocking down pain killers from an operation last Thursday, maybe I wasn’t truly in the mood to deal with a film that centered on the bitter downside of growing old.
Having said that, I did bump into a friend while leaving the theater, and after asking him what he thought, he responded, “That was extraordinarily depressing.” To which I wanted to respond in the words of that flaming intellectual giant, Sarah Palin, “you betcha.” Regardless, while the nuances of the fine performances raise “Another Year” significantly above this year’s other ode to depression, namely the one-dimensional “Rabbit Hole,” please be advised that you are likely to leave the theater wrestling with the thought that life is little more than one, big cosmic joke played on all of us.
On the other hand, if you are going to take a flyer and see “Another Year” anyway, then let me urge you to go home and rent Mr. Leigh’s spirited tribute to a life of good cheer, last year’s infectious “Happy-Go-Lucky.” It is the polar opposite of “Another Year,” and the effect just may spare you the expense of trying to get a prescription for Xanax.
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