Review: Happiness, misery face off in ‘Another Year’
Tom and Gerri, the central characters in British director Mike Leigh’s absorbing “Another Year,” are an almost abnormally happy couple. The two, veering toward old age, snuggle on the couch as they sip tea or wine. They make one another laugh and think. Not only are there no on-screen moments where they disagree or get under one another’s skin, you get the feeling that there have never been any such incidents since they met – on day one of college, as it turns out – and embarked on their life together.The glow surrounding Tom – a cheerful geologist played by Jim Broadbent – and Gerri – a health-care administrator played by Ruth Sheen, more somber than her hubby but equally strong – becomes more visible as we see the people that surround them. It is a sorry lot, whose misery comes in all varieties: too fat and too thin, too loud and too shut down, oblivious to their unhappiness or consumed by it. The common bond is that they are fortunate enough to have Tom and Gerri in their lives – and that they all smoke and drink too much, a point Leigh, who is up for an Oscar for best original screenplay, makes abundantly clear.There is Tom’s old buddy, Ken (Peter Wright) – overweight, lonely, starved for affection. There is Tom’s older brother, Ronnie (David Bradley) – underweight, silent, recently widowed, besieged by an aggressively disagreeable son. And there is Mary – good lord, is there Mary! A work friend of Gerri’s, she comes over to barbecues and sleepovers at Tom and Gerri’s, but she also wrangles her own invitations, and on top of that shows up unexpected and uninvited. Mary is a mess, who doesn’t know when to stop talking or drinking. She’s got a kindly heart. Leigh – who hasscored with “Vera Drake,” “Secrets & Lies” and “Happy-Go-Lucky,” all set in the fitful lives of ordinary, working-stiff Brits – has endless empathy for all his characters. But Mary’s generally kind spirit isn’t enough of a force to stop Mary from digging herself one drama after another – buying a car which she is not suited to drive or own; outwardly moping when Tom and Gerri’s son, Joe, finally lands himself a girlfriend.Lesley Manville, playing Mary, gives an amazing performance. As the film goes on, the character seems to create her own gravity field. She enters scenes where she doesn’t really belong. The camera gets closer and closer to her, revealing the hard edges of her unhappiness. When “Another Year” explores an extended story line – following Ronnie after the death of his wife – that has nothing to do with Mary, the viewer finds himself wondering when Mary will burst onto the scene.Leigh puts an exclamation point on this in the final moment, as the camera zooms in on Mary, lingering on her nervous energy. The story has become Mary’s, rather than Tom and Gerri’s. We’ve suspected it all along, but with that final shot, Leigh confirms that unhappiness is a greater, hungrier force than contentment.
“Another Year” shows Saturday and Sunday, at 4:30 and 7:30 p.m., at the Wheeler Opera House.firstname.lastname@example.org
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