Another Year
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Mike Leigh is anything but a by-the-book writer/director. Instead of presenting his cast with a detailed script and simply asking them to memorize their lines, he gives his cast members characters and asks them to help him develop a story. The resulting films definitely aren’t for everyone. They’re typically chatty and aimless, with no real story and no real conclusion. But, in the process, he and his cast work together to create characters that you won’t soon forget.

In Leigh’s latest meandering drama, Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen star as Tom and Gerri, a rather happy-go-lucky pair who have been happily married for decades. As they grow older, they still love spending time together, whether they’re gardening or cooking or just enjoying each other’s company. But many of their friends and family members aren’t as fortunate.

Another Year follows Tom and Gerri through a year together as they host, entertain, and occasionally counsel their lonely friends and family members—from their single son, Joe (Oliver Maltman), who’s watching more and more of his friends settle down and get married, to Gerri’s coworker, Mary (Lesley Manville), who builds an unhealthy attachment to much-younger Joe.

From the enviably easy-going and sometimes almost irritatingly optimistic Tom and Gerri to desperately lonely singleton Mary, the characters in Another Year are honestly and lovingly represented. But, like 2008’s Happy-Go-Lucky, it certainly has its stand-outs. Although Tom and Gerri are at the center of the film, Mary is really its star. She rarely stops talking when she’s in the room—and she gives the film some much-needed energy. Despite her rather creepy cougar crush on Joe, she’s the most vibrant and sincere character in the film.

Another Year is certainly chatty. It’s mostly just talk—and very little action. But there’s more to this film than the dialogue. In fact, it’s often more about what isn’t said than what is. And that’s where Leigh’s methods pay off. After spending so much time developing their characters, the actors don’t just play these characters; they become them, pulling audiences into their story in the process.

The most frustrating thing about Another Year, then, is the lack of closure—or even growth—for many of the characters. Most of them simply come and go—showing up for a scene or two before disappearing again, never to be seen again. But even some of the main characters seem to have gotten nowhere throughout the course of the year. They’re just as miserable when the movie ends as they were when it began. Of course, that’s realistic, but it’s not entirely satisfying. I found myself wishing for more—maybe some hope or just a little bit of closure.

Another Year isn’t a film for wide audiences. It’s pretty slow going—and its lack of plot can be frustrating. But Leigh’s memorable characters make it a thoughtful drama about happiness, loneliness, and growing older.

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