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.