Another Year Review: Another Mike Leigh Film

November 1, 2010 by  
Filed under - Home, Film Reviews


anotheryear300ANOTHER YEAR (12A): On General Release Friday 5th November

If you were one of the people thoroughly irritated by Poppy’s uncurbed enthusiasm in Mike Leigh’s previous feature Happy Go Lucky, you may find yourself reduced to a similar state of apoplexy when confronted with Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen’s portrayal of Tom and Gerri – an impossibly complacent couple who inhabit the world of the rather vacantly titled Another Year. Or, in other words, another Mike Leigh film.

Whilst Tom and Gerri (their marital bliss purposefully contradicting their bickering animated namesakes) busy themselves in an allotment, their friends Mary and Ken waste away in alcoholic stupors as they try to come to terms with life not having gone to plan, mired as they are in singledom and disillusionment. Of the two, Mary qualifies as the most desperate, particularly when her crush on Tom and Gerri’s son, Joe, gives way to an embarrassing incident where she displays open derision towards his new girlfriend.

Having built a reputation for being an ‘actors’ director’, Leigh returns to his preferred method of setting his cast loose to assemble their own characters in a loosely prescribed setting which, in this case, happens to be a contemporary recession hit Britain. Within this world the populace fret over global warming, recycling and the nature of happiness, a subject which dogs its assembly of characters who are often heard repeating phrases such as “Your happiest memory?”, “Happy on a scale of 1 to 10?” or “I’m really happy” without ever imbuing these claims with much conviction.

Juxtaposed sharply with Tom and Gerri’s idyllic state of being, Leigh appears to align Ken and Mary’s respective misery with an inability to find a partner which, whether intentional or not, is somewhat patronising. Even Joe manages to pluck happiness as if from nowhere, emphasised by the fact the relationship is initiated off camera between the ‘Summer’ and ‘Autumn’ subtitles. If one is to decipher a clear cut message from the film it would read like this: those who remain unmarried either become alcoholics or imposing bores. Or both.

Another Year is a curious film because its characters are in a constant state of flux; affable in one scene, galling in the next. If Tom and Gerri sharing tea together in the rain is fleetingly heart warming, the latter’s condescension towards Mary in the next scene will have you hoping some axe-wielding psychopath will bury her in the allotment. Underneath Tom. In the end it’s Another Year’s refusal to allow its characters to grow which inhibits it from becoming a far more interesting film with fully rounded subjects. As it stands, Leigh has crafted a drama of limited scope which perceives its characters rather cruelly, a stance one doubts the director had in mind. Perhaps a script next time would be a good idea.

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  1. Ada says:

    Jamie Steiner’s review contains factually errors deployed at the service of an obvious prejudice. Nobody ‘repeats phrases like Happy on a scale of 1 to 10’etc. Manville’s character goes on an incredible journey through the film, as does the son’s character. There’s lots more peevish nonsense in Steiner’s review. What a strange piece of fiction it is. The film is excellent and makes an interesting companion piece to Lisa Cholodenko’s ‘The Kids Are Alright’ which is on release at the same time as ‘Another Year’

  2. admin says:

    I’m sorry you didn’t like my review. I thought I was making the point that a lot of characters are frequently asked, or indeed do the asking, if another character is ‘alright’ or something along those lines.

    Perhaps rather than say ‘repeat’ I should have said ‘are often asked or ask’ (I admit my review misleadingly gives the impression that “1 out 10” is in itself repeatedly asked) but I stand by the fact that ‘happiness’ is a reoccurring theme and subject for discussion in the film, an opinion that I know from interviews (one of which I conducted) is supported by Mike Leigh. Where I and the director do not agree is the sincerity with which these questions are asked (particularly in regards Mary) when the characters asking them suposedly care about the person to whom they are asking.

    Again, I’m sorry you didn’t like my review but I feel calling it ‘peevish nonsense’ and ‘fiction’ is a tad too strong. I think we just have different opinions about the film.

  3. I was tempted to yr review by the first sentence (Yes! I was!) and wasn’t disappointed. I went to see Another Year with incredibly high hopes, and came out feeling a friend I trusted had turned on me, for some reason I couldn’t quite fathom. Like you, I felt the choices given were too schematic – married: good; single: bad. Carried through to the galling ‘if you’re a smoker you must be a loser’ symbolism…It might have been interesting to explore Mary and Ken in the light of Geri’s ‘life’s not always kind’, but their portrayal spoiled any chance of this by seeming to lay the blame squarely at their own door. (Pah! They smoke and drink? What do you expect?) And Mary’s reactions to Joe failed totally to ring true. How many middle-aged women hit on their friend’s sons? (Well, Barbara Windsor perhaps, but that was reciprocal so good luck to her!)

    I agree with Ada that the film was well made, fabulous performances etc. But couldn’t we have had a tiny bit of balance – one friend who was single and happy? Or one friend in an awful marriage or having an affaire who did nothing but go on about it?

  4. Mike Leigh’s films

    Because you are so middle-class
    You are surprised that the poor are kind
    Solicitous; sometimes they shout!
    You like to read Polly Toynbee

    Even your violence is false
    It leaves a taste of saccharine
    Because it’s an aberration –
    It’s not from the world that you see

    Little pockets of love, maybe
    An oboe, or a frigging harp
    Winter on the allotment
    Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah

    People being so frigging nice
    I would rather drive six-inch nails
    Slowly into my hands than watch
    Your trite, insipid cinema

    The poor are bad, greedy, stupid
    Like the rich – some of them – and some
    Of the wealthy are quite guiltless –
    Your approach is one-size-fits-all

    It’s shapeless, like a woolly hat
    There’s no caffeine, no guts to it
    Like coco, or camomile tea
    Old bollocks, bought from a church hall