Sunday, January 30, 2011

Another Year

2008’s Happy-Go-Lucky was a surprise hit with audiences and critics as its writer/director Mike Leigh scored another hit film while giving its star Sally Hawkins a true breakout role. The film was also surprising for fans of Leigh as it was his most optimistic and upbeat film of his career. Sadly, it would be Leigh’s last film with longtime producer Simon Channing-Williams who died at age 63 in 2009 after a long battle with cancer. Leigh paid tribute to his late colleague and friend as he moved forward with a project about life in general with Another Year.

Written and directed by Mike Leigh, Another Year tells the story of a married couple whose blissful life is mired by the unhappiness around their friends as they help them out. Featuring many of Leigh’s improvisational style and exploration of all of the quirks about life. It’s a film that dabbles into many themes while finding some sort of solution about the way the world works. With an all-star cast that includes such Leigh regulars as Lesley Manville, Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen, Peter Wight, Philip Davis, and Imelda Staunton plus appearances from David Bradley and Oliver Maltman. Another Year is a charming yet touching film from Mike Leigh.

It’s springtime as Geri (Ruth Sheen) is helping a woman named Janet (Imelda Staunton) deal with her insomnia. Geri is a counselor who works with a doctor named Tanya (Michele Austin) and a secretary named Mary (Lesley Manville). Geri’s been happily married to Tom (Jim Broadbent) who works as a geologist. Whenever they’re not working or at home, Tom and Geri do a lot of time tending to their large garden filled their own fruits and vegetables. Mary often hangs out with Tom and Geri as she is looking for love while would get herself drunk every once in a while pondering about her lack of a strong love life.

While Ruth and Geri often invite Mary to their world, they also get visits from their son Joe (Oliver Maltman) who is also trying to find love as he often helps out with their garden. It’s summertime as a friend named Ken (Peter Wight) visits who is despondent over his age and other issues as he hangs out with Tom and Geri. A barbeque party is held with Ken, Mary, Tanya, Joe, and another friend named Jack (Philip Davis) as they’re all having fun while Tanya unveils her new baby boy. During the party, Mary reveals that she bought a new car as she also flirts with Joe as she asks they would meet again for a drink.

It’s autumn as Joe makes a surprise visit to see his parents as he unveils a new girlfriend named Katie (Karina Fernandez) where they all have lunch and dinner. During the dinner, Mary arrives to hang out with Tom and Geri only to learn about Katie. The dinner goes smooth but leaves Mary upset as she would later make another visit in the winter. Tom, Geri, and Joe however, go to meet Tom’s brother Ronnie (David Bradley) for some devastating family news that is worsened by the visit of Ronnie’s son Carl (Martin Savage). Mary’s visit to Tom and Geri’s home has her realizing how much trouble she is though it’s just another moment for Tom and Geri.

The film is about a couple who help out their friends and family in the time of need through the span of four seasons. Yet, the one friend who is in constant need of help is a woman named Mary, a 40ish secretary who likes to drink, have fun, and wear youthful clothes in order to be loved. Yet her character goes through the most changes throughout the year as she becomes more desperate and fragile. Through it all, it’s Tom and Geri that provide safety and love not just to her but to the people involved.

It’s really a film about good people who are there for those in need of comfort. Notably in the winter section when Tom and Geri with Joe visit Ronnie who is need of comfort. Though Ronnie doesn’t speak very much over what he had just been through, it is Tom and Geri that offer him a place to stay for a while. When their friend Ken is going through tough times, Tom takes him out to play golf with Joe and Jack just to cheer him up. Mike Leigh’s approach to the story is definitely well-structured in four parts as he gets the chance to create mood changes for each season. Even in creating characters that are lively and interesting to watch.

Leigh’s direction is definitely marvelous to watch in the way he creates a mood for each season. While its mostly straightforward, Leigh’s still yet moody compositions remains intoxicating to watch. Even as it has an air of theatricality in the way he shoots actors from where they’re standing to creating wonderful close-ups that explores the mood of the characters. Leigh underplays the drama while opening the film with a bitter woman wanting sleeping pills so she can sleep. While it’s mostly a dramatic, melancholic film, Leigh allows lots of humor into the mix so that the audience can get to know the characters and maybe want to hang out with them. The overall result in Leigh’s work is proof that is one of Britain’s great living directors working today.

Leigh’s longtime cinematographer Dick Pope does a wonderful job with the different array of color schemes for the film’s seasons. With the more colorful, brighter look of the spring and summer for the first half of the film including dabbles of rain. Pope also uses darker palettes for the autumn and winter scenes in the second half as it helps plays to the film’s emotional tone. Pope’s work is superb as it is definitely one of the film’s technical highlights.

Editor Jon Gregory does an excellent job with the film’s editing in presenting the film with a straightforward approach while adding bits of style to maintain a nice rhythm to the film. Even in letting each season fade to black to end and open the next season. Production designer Simon Beresford, along with set decorator Sophia Chowdhury and art director Andrew Rothschild, do a very good job with the film‘s set design from the comfortable home that Tom and Geri lives in to the tiny, decayed shack that they sit in at their large garden. Costume designer Jacqueline Durran also does a very good job with the film‘s costumes from the hippie-like clothes that Geri wears to the more casual stuff everyone else wears while the character of Mary wears clothes that represents her longing to be youthful.

Sound recordist Tim Fraser and sound editor Nigel Stone do some fine work in the sound work by capturing natural sounds to convey the energy and feel of the scene along with some crazier scenes involving traffic and trains. Music composer Gary Yershon brings a lovely yet plaintive score that plays to the film’s melancholia played with a harp as it helps introduce a new season or to play up to the dramatic elements of the film.

Casting director Nina Gold does a superb job in assembling a great cast for the film as part of what makes Mike Leigh’s films so fascinating is in the casting. Appearances from Leigh regulars such as Philip Davis as Jack, Michele Austin as Tanya, Martin Savage as Carl, and Imelda Staunton in a small but memorable appearance as Janet, an insomniac in the opening scene of the film. Other notable appearances include David Bradley as Tom’s laconic yet shell-shocked brother Ronnie and Karina Fernandez as Joe’s new, upbeat girlfriend Katie. Peter Wight is excellent as Ken, an old friend of Tom who has fallen on hard times as he seeks comfort in his friends while he carries a torch for Mary. Oliver Maltman is very good as Joe, Tom and Geri’s son who is there for his parents while trying to find love as well. Maltman’s performance is fun to watch as an adult-son who has all of the good qualities that he’s inherited from his parents.

Ruth Sheen is great as Geri, a no-nonsense but caring woman whose job is to help people sort out their situations. Even as she possesses a maternal warmth that people needed as she provides whatever they need for comfort as Sheen’s performance is marvelous. Jim Broadbent is phenomenal as Tom, a kind-hearted man with an eccentric behavior who also provides the things his friends need. Broadbent’s whimsical yet charming performance is one of the most uplifting and witty performances he has done as it proves why he’s one of the great actors working today.

Finally, there’s Lesley Manville in an amazing performance as Mary. A lovely but fragile woman desperate to find love as she drinks her sorrows while hoping to nab the much younger Joe. Manville’s performance is wonderful to watch as she starts out as this vibrant though flakey woman who often forgets things. To then descend into someone really desperate as Manville doesn’t overplay the drama by remaining still as she allows her character to gain sympathy for who she is. It’s definitely one of the best performances of 2010 as Manville’s work is just startling to watch.

Another Year is a wonderful yet mesmerizing film from Mike Leigh and company. Led by an amazing ensemble cast including Lesley Manville, Jim Broadbent, and Ruth Sheen. It’s a film that fans of Mike Leigh will enjoy about all of the ups and downs of life. Fans of great yet unconventional dramas will find something surprisingly uplifting in a melancholic film that reveals the goodness of people and why its important to have friends. It’s also another amazing film from Mike Leigh who adds another great film to his amazing filmography. In the end, Another Year is a superb yet engrossing film from the great Mike Leigh.

Mike Leigh Films: (Bleak Moments) - (Hard Labour) (The Permissive Society) - (Knock for Knock) - (Nuts in May) - (Abigail’s Party) - (Kiss of Death) - (Who’s Who) - (Grown-Ups) - (Home Sweet Home) - (Meantime) - (Four Days in July) - (High Hopes) - Life is Sweet - Naked - Secrets & Lies - Career Girls - Topsy-Turvy - All or Nothing - Vera Drake - Happy-Go-Lucky - Mr. Turner

© thevoid99 2011

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