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Eugene Weekly : Movies : 2.3.11

Ruth Sheen and Jim Broadbentin Another Year

Theres Something about Mary

The master director of Happy-Go-Lucky returns

By Jason Blair

ANOTHER YEAR: Written and directed by Mike Leigh. Cinematography, Dick Pope. Music, Gary Yershon. Starring Lesley Manville, Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen. Sony Pictures Classics, 2010. PG-13. 129 minutes.

Somewhere in London, an aging couple is inexhaustibly happy. Gerri (Ruth Sheen) is a gentle and capable counselor, while Tom (Jim Broadbent) is a jolly if judgmental geologist. Together they embrace, rather than shrink from, the worlds rhythms and fluctuations ã theyre both four-season gardeners ã and their relationship is hearty, fortified, even graceful. Theyre at ease in the world because they adapt to it. If only their friends were so fortunate. How we resist change, and under what circumstances change is possible, is the central question of Another Year.

Another Year is the latest from writer and director Mike Leigh (Naked, Secrets & Lies), an artist whose unscripted approach to social realism often finds ordinary people negotiating a crisis. At face value, Another Year refers to a typical year for Gerri and Tom. Being a safe port, they tend to attract boats in a storm, and so we meet Mary (Lesley Manville), Gerris dippy co-worker, and later, Ken (Peter Wright), a clumsy friend of Toms. Mary, following a homecooked meal with Gerri and Tom, repays the kindness by drinking too much and passing out. Ken, who visits soon after, drinks too much and collapses into tears. With friends like these, best to avoid friends altogether. But the disconnect is merely a starting point in Another Year, where characters who at first seem minor turn out to be major players, while other characters, seemingly major, simply drift away. Exuberantly positive folks harbor great pain and fear in Leighs work, but also great reserves of strength.

Mary is a self-deprecating type whose polished exterior hides signs of a breakdown. Shes always late, usually following some mishap or catastrophe, even if we sense its in her imagination. Earnest, she addresses people by their first name far too often, as if a supplicant looking for reassurance. She clearly adores Gerri, but one can imagine her putting a move on Tom, in part because shes a natural flirt and in part because in the presence of wine, shes has a tendency to overserve herself by tossing it back in great desperate glugs. As it turns out, she has it bad for their son, Joe (Oliver Martman). With each passing scene, Leigh makes a case for her as possibly the worlds loneliest woman, a shift so natural and evolutionary that you barely notice it happening. First shes buoyant, then shes sunk: Its a great example of how much drama can be wrung from a completely unself-aware person.

Meanwhile, while Gerri and Tom remain genetically predisposed to kindness, they can be sweetly patronizing to both Mary and Ken. They indulge their lonely friends, but only up to a point. Jim in particular is quite tart when he wants to be. But throughout Another Year, theyre shining examples of stability and perseverance ã Toms brother loses his wife, Gerri has to cut off Mary for a time ã qualities theyre so in control of that theyre barely aware they possess them. Eventually, Mary is invited back into their house, but has anything changed? Has Mary the courage to change? We can debate all we want the mysterious ending of Inception; whether its a dream or not is irrelevant. By contrast, the ending of Another Year is almost molecularly subtle. That Lesley Manville isnt nominated for an Oscar for her role as Mary is the oversight of awards season. Another Year is one of the most rewarding movies of the year. Precise, humane, and lovely, its a forward-thinking movie about people whose lives are stuck in park.