But in the films of Mike Leigh, there are almost always kind people, sympathetic even — generally working class and always always wonderfully acted by his ensemble of improvisational collaborators.
“Another Year” gives us four seasons among an extended circle of friends of the long-married Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen). They’re professionals — he’s a geological engineer, she’s a counselor at a local clinic. They have a grown son (Oliver Maltman), an old family pal now sweaty, overweight, divorced, and drinking too much (Peter Wight).
And then there’s Mary, needy, clinging, abrasive Mary, given an awards-worthy turn by Lesley Manville. Manville makes Mary a vast catalog of tics, twitches and mannerisms, a fragile soul a bit too fond of her wine, impulsive, prone to hysterics. Mary doesn’t wear her emotions on her sleeve. She wears every thought that flits through her bitter, clingy mind on it. She is still recovering from a long-ago affair with a married man. And Tom and especially Gerri don’t know what to do with her except let her crash on their couch after she’s polished off another bottle.
Leigh (“Happy-Go-Lucky,” “Vera Drake”) shows us the lonely indignities of middle age, a working class that has aged out of an era when one could wear that label. Now the pubs, the vacation destinations, they’re all for “the young,” Ken (Wight) protests. As the seasons pass, Mary tries her hand at buying and keeping her first car, in her late 40s, harbors romantic hopes that Tom and Gerri’s 30something son will renew a childhood crush on her, and Ken tries his hand at making a pass at this shrill and plainly unstable woman.
It’s not the most focused Leigh movie, but plot has never been his strong suit. He’s about awkward, hyper-realistic situations rendered with open-faced honesty by his cast, their heavily-accented speech peppered with slang ad colloquialisms, every sentence ending with “Haven’t I?” or “Didn’t you?” in between this or that “cuppa tea?”
In Mary, Leigh has found the polar opposite of Sally Hawkin’s giggle-through-the-pain heroine of “Happy-Go-Lucky,” a woman who can’t laugh without it seeming as needy and desperate as everything else about her life. “Another Year” isn’t just her lot in life, it’s her prison sentence.
Cast: Lesley Manville, Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen
Director: Mike Leigh
Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for some language.