45 Years Review
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No matter what Hollywood may suggest, there’s really no such thing as “the perfect marriage.” Every relationship has its share of ups and downs, its successes and failures. Those that last manage to find the right balance, building on things like trust, honesty, friendship, and forgiveness. But in 45 Years, an ill-timed revelation throws off the careful balance of a happy marriage.

45 Years stars Charlotte Rampling as Kate Mercer, a retired teacher who’s in the process of planning a party to celebrate her 45th wedding anniversary with her husband, Geoff (Tom Courtenay). Just days before the party, though, Geoff receives a letter containing unexpected news. And as Geoff becomes distant, trying to come to grips with both the shocking information and the ghosts of his past, Kate continues planning the party—all the while quietly contemplating the situation and the relationship-shattering revelations that accompany it.

In the beginning, the Mercers seems to have an enviable relationship. They’ve been married for most of their lives, weathering the highs and lows while growing old together. And now they find themselves retired but still in love, enjoying their quiet, easy-going life in the country. They make such a sweet, charming couple—but, of course, that’s just the beginning of the story. Within minutes, the letter that Geoff receives changes everything for both spouses—and the rest of the film explores how it affects each of them, as well as their relationship.

Without giving too much away, the letter concerns an incident from Geoff’s past—from his life before Kate—and, as soon as he reads it, the memories come flooding back. He’s no longer laid-back and content. He’s distracted and ill at ease, turning away from his friends and the woman who’s shared his life and finding comfort instead in an old vice.

But the film focuses its attention on Kate—on her shifting feelings as she struggles to deal with each troubling new piece of information while continuing to plan a grand celebration of her suddenly-shaky marriage. And Rampling gives a heartbreaking performance as Kate. She doesn’t scream or cry or go running off to vent to her friends. Instead, she takes it all in, suffering in silence while letting her facial expressions tell the whole story.

In much the same way, the film itself isn’t theatrical or melodramatic. There are no fights, no threats, no smashing dinnerware. Instead, it’s quiet and subdued—and, admittedly, that sometimes makes it feel somewhat sluggish. But, through suggestions, actions, and glances, it still tells a thoughtful story about how these long-time partners handle a marital crisis.

45 Years is neither thrilling nor uplifting. It’s a quiet, challenging drama. But its honesty and emotion—as well as its compelling lead performance—make it worth the effort.

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