Director/writer Mike Leigh is a master at exploring the human condition. His knack for observing the everyday lives of ordinary people is a rare gift, and he always delivers keen insight. In his new film, “Another Year,” Leigh assembles a stunning cast of characters that will wheedle their way into your heart.
Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen) are a happily married couple who have amazingly unhappy friends. The most pathetic is Mary (Lesley Manville), whose jolly facade belies a morbidly morose inner self that requires vast amounts of wine to endure. She’s convinced that her good looks work against her when, in actuality, she could use some age-appropriate dressing tips. Mary’s idea for turning her horrible life around is to purchase a car.
On the bright side, Tom and Gerri have a wonderful son who’s recently found the love of his life. This particular situation doesn’t sit well with Mary who, in her delusional thinking, had hopes of marrying him herself. Mary’s unacceptable behavior in response to their son’s good fortune casts a pall on the relationship with Tom and Gerri.
Manville’s portrayal of Mary is the shinning star in this bittersweet film. Although Broadbent’s (“Iris”) and Sheen’s (“Vera Drake”) characters are the solid foundation upon which “Another Year” is based, Manville’s utterly brilliant performance rocks it to the core. I am truly astounded that she did not receive an Oscar nod this year.
Leigh did manage to nab one for Best Original Screenplay. It’s his fifth nomination in the category. “Happy-Go-Lucky” (2008), “Vera Drake” (2004), “Topsy-Turvy” (1999) and “Secrets and Lies” (1996) were all nominated but didn’t win the golden boy. Thankfully, it hasn’t seemed to affect his efficacious writing prowess.
One of the saddest parting shots I’ve ever seen in a film is that of the camera fixed on Mary’s quietly desperate face. It breaks your heart.