By Don Simpson | January 2, 2011
Director: Mike Leigh
Writer(s): Mike Leigh
Starring: Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen, Lesley Manville
The opening sequence of Another Year lays the groundwork for the tone of Mike Leigh’s follow-up to Happy-Go-Lucky. Janet (Imelda Staunton) visits her doctor’s office for sleeping medication, but she is referred to Gerri (Ruth Sheen), a counselor, instead. Gerri asks Janet to rate, on a scale of one to ten, how happy she is. Janet instinctively responds: “One.”
We never see Janet again — good riddance to her sad and sorry self — but Gerri turns out to be one of our primary protagonists. Gerri is married to Tom (Jim Broadbent), a happy-go-lucky geologist. Their marriage is nothing short of idyllic, and their emotional stability enables them to function as the bedrock for their miserably single friends and family (most of whom would probably rate their happiness similarly to Janet). It seems each season (Another Year is split into four distinct segments — one for each season) delivers new emotional issues for Gerri and Tom to assist with as they also tend to the seasonal changes of their fruitful vegetable garden.
Another Year is a story of haves who want to help the have-nots, yet the haves never get all that involved in the personal business of the have-nots. It is as if Gerri and Tom do not want other people’s sorrows to interfere with their own happiness. Emotionally detached, like psychiatrists, they might occasionally ask a probing question or two (suggested drinking game: Take a swig every time a character asks “How are you?”) but they mostly function as a sounding board for their friends and family to divulge their woes.
For Leigh, everyone has a choice to control their own happiness. People have the option to change and there is always room for personal growth. The trick is that one must learn to adapt to life’s setbacks, to suck it up, to always look on the bright side of life.
In this critic’s opinion, Another Year is one of the lesser films in Leigh’s “depressed old people who cry a lot” cannon mainly because the characters’ psychological states are too grossly exaggerated for my tastes. Gerri and Tom seem all too perfectly happy, while characters such as Mary (Lesley Manville) and Ken (Peter Wight) seem like one-dimensional caricatures of the hopelessly depressed. A more interesting story might have been Leigh’s perspective on the secrets to Gerri and Tom’s successful marriage — a topic Another Year avoids altogether.