Another Year (2010)
Written & Directed by Mike Leigh
Tom and Gerrie (yes, that is their names) are a couple nearing retirement. He’s a geological engineer, and she’s a counselor, but both of them have a great passion for nature and working in their garden allotment. Over the course of a single year, we follow them as they spend time with friends and family. We’re introduced to Mary, a receptionist at the health center where Gerri works. Mary is divorced, and her last meaningful relationship turned out to be with a married man. Tom’s childhood friend Ken is overweight and eats & drinks non-stop. Ken complains about how he’s being aged out of his position at work and that he hadn’t stopped to realize he was old now. Tom and Gerrie’s son Joe is in his thirties and still single which becomes a point of conversation during many dinners. There’s no mystery or deep conflict here; this is just life played out over another year.
Mike Leigh is seen by many as a quintessentially British director with his long career centered around chronicling the everyday and mundane, finding beauty in moments others pass off an unremarkable. Leigh does this by making his work character- and dialogue-forward. It takes a few scenes before we understand who the central characters will be in the picture. The opening scene shows Imelda Staunton as a woman who has insomnia. She’s sought help from her GP who recommends her for counseling rather than ply her with sleeping pills. The woman ends up in the office of Gerrie who is trying to extract the real reason she cannot sleep at night. There is strong resistance towards Gerrie’s prodding and an empty promise of a follow-up meeting. We never see this woman again, but her presence remains with us.
The perspective of the movie makes a causal shift from Tom and Gerrie to Mary around the halfway point. There is an initial reaction to seeing our central couple as a symbol of perfection, everything around them seems to be so beautiful. Slowly we begin to see that Gerrie is incredibly passive aggressive and doesn’t seem to have her friend Mary’s best interests at heart. Mary is a complete flakey mess, the kind I am sure you have met before. She’s never on time, always with a story about high drama that prevented her from getting to her destination. Mary talks endlessly about all the dreams she has for her life, of love and travel, all centered around escape from what’s happening now. All the while, Gerri and Tom make cutesy glances and eye rolls at “poor Mary.”
By the time we reach the film’s winter conclusion, Mary’s highs have brought her back to her lows with the possibility of sinking further down into the mire. Gerri is proving no help, her focus on her family whom Mary feels she was an unofficial part of. It becomes evident in the final scenes that Mary isn’t a part of this family and she’ll be ignored as they engage in revelries. It’s the face of Mary, now becoming the figure with whom we identify, responsible for the mess we’ve made of our lives but heartbroken that our friends have given up on us. Lesley Manville, the actress playing Mary, conveys such resonant loneliness sitting right in the middle of a family dinner, realizing none of them care for her in the way family care.
While it may feel obvious to frame Mary as the unlikeable mess of the movie, but Gerri and Tom are equally repellent. They appear to have it all together, and they put forth the facade that they are helping the people around them, but they never do a single thing to aid another person. They humor Mary’s drunken rambling, they pity and scoff Ken behind his back, and they just let Tom’s widowed brother Ron come and stay without addressing any of the substantive issues he’s going to have. While the year of the title brings Mary back full circle to where she started, it is the same with Gerri and Tom. This couple has not grown in any way; they have not learned anything and Mary has this realization in the final moments of the movie. Another Year is showing us the lack of change our lives go through in a single year, how no matter the things that happen to us we always seem to end up in the same place.