I just finished watching Another Year and I feel, well, deflated. There's a point in everyone's life where you believe that the angst and the drama are behind you; it's disheartening to be reminded that being old can be just as petty as being young.
The film centers around one happy couple and their shifting satellites. The movie exists to challenge Tolstoy's universally accepted opening salvo: "Happy families are all alike." Mike Leigh seems to say that happy families are completely unpredictable, shaped by the tensions between the ideal cocoon-like existence of long-time lovers and the desire to still be a part of the real world.
Into this steady dance roars comet Mary, who shifts the orbit of all the other satellites whenever she appears; she's a mess. What makes Mary so compelling is that, despite all our instant belief that she's "desperate," she doesn't see it that way. On some level, she still believes that the fruits of youth are within her reach, and that's why each disappointment whips back at her with energy that is both equal and opposite to the hopes she emits. This movie is worth watching for Lesley Manville's performance alone.
Jim Broadbent plays Tom, the most straightforward character. Gerri frequently restrains him from mouthing off. He is cynical and his is uncomplicated, sometimes impossibly so. He never hesitates to offer "rational advice" in response to the real problems of his friends and family; he clearly does not understand their pain, but needs to maintain the illusion of being a mensch.
His wife Gerri is a much more strange character; omnipresent, she remembers everything and everyone. She seems not to pass judgment, but while she never expresses her opinions in so many words, she reveals them in the smallest gestures, like her very slight eyeroll/sigh when Vera Drake leaves the room. Just listen to how her tone modulates in the course of each evening with Mary, the real star of the tale.
Is this what we're all doomed to become? If we're lucky we might end up self-righteous; if we are less blessed we radiate desperation as a magnet for more desperation and other desperate people. Another Year is a quiet film that asks big questions of the viewer, perhaps questions that we want to avoid for as long as possible. Don't miss this one, even though you may feel depressed for a day or two afterwards.