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Mike Leigh examines happiness in Another Year



Another Year  takes us through one spring, summer, autumn, and winter in the lives of Tom (Broadbent) and Gerri (Sheen), a married couple in late middle age. They live in London, where Tom works as an engineering geologist and Gerri as a therapist. These are unexceptional people, except for the mutual love they radiate amid the ordinary activities of gardening, cooking, and entertaining. Envious friends torment themselves over their own miserable failures at finding happiness.

In an early sequence of the film, Gerri attempts to draw a sullen, taciturn woman out of her clinical depression. On a scale of 1 to 10, Gerri asks, how happy are you? The woman responds: 1. The patient resists therapy, and when the session is over, it seems unlikely that she will ever return for another. Though she in fact disappears from the rest of the film, she foreshadows the glum folks who are drawn to the glow emitted by Tom and Gerri. Tom’s best friend, Ken (Wight), is a paunchy, lonely lush, and Tom’s older brother, Ronnie, is traumatized into muteness by the sudden death of his wife. Ronnie’s son, Carl, is consumed by a terminal, violent rage. Throughout the year, Tom and Gerri are centered, gentle, and cheerful. Their 30-year-old son, Joe (Maltman), a community lawyer, has inherited their capacity for serenity.

Describing herself as “a glass half-full kind of girl,” Gerri’s friend Mary at first seems incapable of moping. In a bravura performance by Lesley Manville, she is a loquacious bundle of nervous energy dominating the screen. However, it soon becomes apparent that Mary’s manic temperament is a mask for insecurity. Longing for affection or at least some attention, she compounds her problems by trying to resolve them. “Life’s not always kind, is it?” Gerri tells her. Yet it is not the kindness of life that is at issue, rather than the kind of life each character leads.

Like Happy-Go-Lucky and Secrets & Lies, Another Year is an exercise in eudemonics, an inquiry into whether happiness is attainable or even desirable. Their director, Mike Leigh, is the anti-James Cameron. Instead of a lavish, clamorous, hectic spectacle, he offers, through long takes and lingering closeups of open faces, a patient, sober acquaintance with ordinary existence, dreary and teary as it often is.

Another Year

Writ. & dir. Mike Leigh; feat. Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen, Peter Wight, Oliver Maltman (PG-13)