Ann Hornaday reviews "Another Year"
Mike Leigh, Britain's most eloquent Bard of the Bummed, has returned. After 2009's subversively cheerful "Happy-Go-Lucky," he has come back with equally provocative, if slightly more familiar ground with "Another Year," in which he brings his considerable talents to bear on limning our capacities for hope, sadness and self-deception.
Mary (Lesley Manville) possesses all of those things in spades, a fact made almost immediately clear from her first moments on screen. Twitching and trilling with shivering fragility, she's all loose ends and blowsy disorder. When she visits her friends Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen), the wholesome moderation and companionable ease of their marriage simply casts her own late-middle-aged loneliness into sharper relief. She drinks too much. She talks too much. And, after an impromptu encounter with the couple's 30-year-old son, Joe (Oliver Maltman), the depths of her illusions are made all the more pathetically clear.
"Another Year" follows its vivid, utterly compelling protagonists through the titular 12-month cycle, wherein a child is born, someone else dies and Tom and Gerri tend to the cycle of life in their London community garden, carefully bringing their bounty back to a warm, comfortable home. Is there something complacent in their steady state of happiness, something peremptory in the way they look at each other while Mary natters on about her "poky rental flat" and disastrous love life? Or does Leigh see their successful marriage and thriving family as the just reward of their own self-discipline and good judgment? The filmmaker, gratifyingly, leaves the answers up to us.
"Another Year" has been understandably hailed as a breakout moment for Manville, a member of Leigh's longtime ensemble of actors, here given center stage for a performance that, in its blend of vulnerability and self-destructive neurosis, achieves greatness. But save kudos for Broadbent and Sheen, who manage to imbue even the banal satisfactions of happily married life with pungent, sharply observed tics and tensions. Happy, sad, funny, cruel - Leigh manages to capture it all, in a delicate chamber piece of human foibles and fleeting moments of connection. Another year, maybe, but far from just another movie.
rrr PG-13. At area theaters. Contains some objectionable language. 129 minutes.