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Review: Another Year

By James Beale

March 4, 2011

About midway through, "Another Year" takes a heavy turn. The first two seasons (of four) focus on Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen), a married 60-something couple who are perfectly happy. 

There is no strife or adultery around the corner, and yet the characters never feel fake. By crafting such fully formed people, writer and director Mike Leigh reminds the audience they can grow up to be truly happy.

For the first half, despair is certainly an undercurrent, but it's never manifested so clearly as it is in the final two seasons (autumn and winter, fittingly). 

Blow after blow is dealt, and by the film's final devastating shot, theatergoers may be wondering to themselves if another year is worth living.

This British drama works quietly and effectively in the background, distracting the audience with quick, everyday dialogue. 

By the end, though, the themes and mood have been set so well it's impossible to immediately forget.

Leigh was nominated for an Oscar for the screenplay, and he deserved the nod.

"Another Year" is a spoiler-free film. 

Part of this is that the film has no real plot, and only one character has a solid emotional arc. This is because each character is so fully realized - in real life, we don't experience arcs. Life just keeps on going, which is exasperating for most of the characters.

Tom and Gerri, in particular, work so naturally. 

They are constantly in their garden, work, and have dinners and lunches with friends. Every character but these two in particular seem worn down by life. 

This works exceedingly well throughout the atmosphere of each season (which changes by dialogue, events, and even color).

The second half of the film slows on purpose because there isn't as much fun dialogue for Broadbent and Sheen to bounce back and forth, but their sheer presence on screen reminds of better times. 

The best acting performance is turned in by Lesley Manville as Mary. 

Mary's not uncommon in today's world, unfortunately - single, getting older, and relies on alcohol for too much. During the first two seasons, she is a punching bag for the characters - when one asks her how big her car's engine is, she begins to spread her arms to show the width. 

But in the final two seasons, Mary becomes a haunting reminder of how life goes sometimes. 

This isn't done by a big reveal or a car chase, but by some long silences, frustratingly familiar dialogue, and some heartbreaking camera work.

Some of these characters have so much self-pity it's difficult to watch at times, and while this feels real, it doesn't create a compelling reason for empathy. 

Some scenes weren't hard to watch because they were awkward socially, but because characters were so inept at dealing with life it was bothersome. 

It's the downside of living a free life - once you fail, it's your fault. Once you fail for 30 years? Well, that's even more difficult to confront.

But that's the point Leigh is hammering away at during "Another Year" - every year people we know break down, die, or get new relationships that crush someone else. 

This film starts as a happy parable about living out old age to the fullest, but by the end, it's a haunting reminder of a life missed.

3/4 stars

"Another Year" is playing at The Lyric from March 4 to March 10.