54th BFI London Film Festival: Another Year (2010)

Another Year, 2010.

Directed by Mike Leigh.
Starring Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen, Peter Wright, Oliver Maltman and Imelda Staunton.

Another Year
SYNOPSIS:

An intimate portrait of a year in the lives of an aging but happily-married couple and their dysfunctional friends.

Another Year Mike Leigh
Another Year is Mike Leigh’s eleventh feature film, an interesting multi character drama doused with humourous moments though out.

The story follows the lives and emotions of Gerri and her husband Tom, their son Joe, Gerri’s work colleague Mary and several other friends and relatives over the course of a year. The film is split into the four season – spring, summer, autumn, winter – to represent the relationships of everyone involved; in the spring everyone is happy and getting along with one another, but come winter certain friendships and relationships turn as frosty as the weather.

Gerri (Ruth Sheen) spends most of her time keeping her colleague Mary’s spirits up. Mary (Lesley Manville) is growing old, but she is also increasing in loneliness. She is jealous of Gerri and Tom’s (Jim Broadbent) relationship and has a very big soft spot for their son Joe (Oliver Maltman). Later in the year Joe introduces his girlfriend Katie (Karina Fernandez) to his parents – and Mary, who is hostile towards Katie which upsets everyone and ultimately damages her friendship with Gerri.

On some occasions films with multiple protagonists have strong and weak characters – this is not the case with Another Year. Every character, their importance in the story irrelevant, is a believable, likable person who does not fail to entertain. Although Mary is a growing burden on Gerri and Tom she steals many of her early scenes with drunken humour and her need to find a man who loves her. Another delightfully entertaining character is introduced in the Summer; Ken (Peter Wight). Ken is another fan of alcohol, which is both his charm and his downfall. The development of the character’s relationships is interesting to see, with only Gerri and Tom feeling comfortable at their stations in life to start with. Mary has a crush on Joe, who innocently flirts with her which leads her on and is the catalyst of her emotional stability going into decline. Joe confesses to her in a very sweet scene that a lot of his friends are now married and he is still single. When autumn comes around he brings his new girlfriend Katie into everyone’s life and Mary is out in the cold.

The film’s running time is a little over two hours. Although laced with comedic moments, after the first hour and fifteen minutes the pace begins to slow down – in some scenes coming to an abrupt halt all together. There is a scene where Mary is left alone with Tom’s brother Ronnie (David Bradley), who is staying with his brother and Gerri for a few days after his wife’s funeral. The situation is uncomfortable and Mary and Ronnie, having never met before, step outside for a cigarette. Mary’s personality and emotions have been firmly established at this point however her scene with Ronnie seems very unnecessary. Apart from a few cheap laughs there is no real point to it. The scene is under ten minutes long but if feels a lot longer. The first 75 – 90 minutes show that Mike Leigh has made a genuinely interesting and entertaining film, however it starts to sag towards the end.

The target audience is also very clear. Unless you are under the age of forty you are unlikely to find this film entertaining. The issues dealt with – growing old, finding love, making new relationships later in life – are things most cinema goers will not be too familiar with. Some exceptions aside (I’m well under forty years of age but I enjoyed it!) I can’t see many youngsters choosing to see this film on a night at the cinema if it has to contend with the razzle dazzle of a high profile Hollywood movie. Anyone outside Another Year’s target demographic will face a battle with their concentration span.

Mike Leigh’s newest offering gives us humour, emotion, empathy and disgust in places. It is very well acted and the narrative is told in a delicate way. However it is a little longer than it needs to be and wanes off towards the end, but ultimately it has the potentially to be one of the British gems of this year’s festival.

Jon Dudley is a freelance film and television journalist and his 17 minute short film Justification was shown at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.

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