Mike Leigh has been a stalwart in the British film industry for years, combining his penchant for writing and directing to deliver powerful cinema. Relying on an entourage of recognizable Brits who seem to continually crop up in his films, Leigh has brought to life some of the most beautiful characters and stories to grace the silver screen in recent history.
His latest project, Another Year, highlights a perfectly happy couple's normal existence amongst the extreme difficulties faced by those closest to them. This movie is nothing less than one would expect from a man with Leigh's talent, yet it still stands out in the best way possible.
Tom and Gerri are a married couple living out their blissful marriage on the outskirts of London. The movie opens on Gerri (Ruth Sheen), a counselor, trying to help a distressed woman through the perils of her sleeplessness. So easily does Leigh broach the subject matter of emotional frailty in the first scene that you hardly blink an eye, almost missing the foreshadowing. Gerri seems to have all the answers to the woman's problems, not in a condescending, judgmental way, but rather in a loving, looking-out-for-the-good-of-everyone kind of way. Gerri's husband Tom (Jim Broadbent) is much the same-- a lighthearted man who offers support to anyone he knows who needs it.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are Gerri's friend Mary (Lesley Manville), Tom's friend Ken (Peter Wight) and brother Ronnie (David Bradley). Representing an aging portion of society, these three struggle with loneliness and cling to Tom and Gerri as a stabilizing force. A lot of the emotional despair centers on Mary, who meanders through life with the clear understanding that her best years are behind her. No amount of wine, boy chasing (namely Tom and Gerri's son Joe) or tears are able to help her deal with the depression that has set itself upon her. Nowhere is this seen more then when Mary is told that Joe has a girlfriend; a close-up by Leigh and a stirring effort by Manville capture the breaking of Mary's spirit -- a truly sad yet beautiful scene.
Another Year doesn't focus on one story arc, it seeks to impress upon the viewer the importance found in character's interactions by giving mundane, everyday conversations and occurrences a depth and weight that affects the very essence of a person.
From the outset, Leigh displays his talent at mirroring reality in film. His incredibly sharp script writing makes each character introduction a seamless venture as they've all been properly introduced before they show up on screen. The breakneck pace of the dialogue (reminiscent of a Gilmore Girls episode) only serves to heighten the emotional connection felt by the contrasting painful silences. Despite the focus on dialogue, it is Leigh's wonderful directing, catching the subtleties in each character's facial expressions and reactions, that truly sells this story. Coupling a wonderfully executed film with nearly flawless ensemble performances from some of Britain's best actors and actresses-- especially Manville-- Leigh has produced a movie with a message that is almost sure to connect with you on the deepest kind of emotional level.