“Life’s not always kind, is it?” *
If one were to walk into a crowded restaurant with a pad and pencil, and if one were to go around to all the tables and inconspicuously eavesdrop on the diners’ conversations, and if one were to write these conversations down, one would have a pretty good idea of both the emotional interest and the sort of dialogue that I found in Mike Leigh’s lackluster new film, Another Year. I think you’ve got the picture. Amid the din you might find here and there a few amusing anecdotes and the occasional couple breaking up for good, but for the most part your ears would be filled with drab and air-filling gobbledygook. Another Year is about life. Yes, I said “life”. But not the sort of life filled with adventure, nor the sort of life filled with bizarre paradoxes or life-altering decisions. No, Another Year is about the normal, everyday, simple sort of life. The life most people lead; the life of the everyman; the ordinary life. I suppose for someone who has lived an enormous, grand life (someone like Howard Hughes or one of our presidents) the goings on of ordinary, miniscule people might hold a certain amount of interest. But for us ordinary stooges a documentation of every day life is about as interesting as a self-improvement lecture. The only reason we find it so boring is because we already know what it’s like, and we don’t need to see it up on screen. Would I want to watch a video of my entire life after I’ve already lived it? Not in the least.
I suppose the plot (if you can call it that) could be described as an almost documentary-like chronicle of the lives of a small group of family and friends throughout the four seasons of the year. Tom & Gerri (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) are a friendly, rather cordial old couple on the verge of retirement who despite their respective names never seem to quarrel or fight. For the most part, their lives are trouble-free and happy. That is more than I can say for their various friends and associates. Tom & Gerri seem to have a knack for socializing with numerous people who are alcoholics, down-and-outers, just plain losers, or all three in one. The closest of these to Tom & Gerri is the nervous motor mouth Mary (Lesley Manville) who in her younger days may have been a flibbertigibbet. At about the fifteen minute mark, Mary’s problems had been well established and thoughts along the line of “Oh! Tom & Gerri are going to have to help this poor soul.” It seemed a perfectly logical direction in which the story might go, but no such thing ever happened. Instead, the filmmakers decided to fill what could have been ample time for fixing poor Mary with scene after scene of these creatures eating and drinking (I swear these characters drink more wine than the entire French nation) further confusticated by endless amounts of dull and inane talk. My Lord! Tom & Gerri & Mary have more pointless conversations than Barbie has clothes! I could hear more stimulating conversation in a room full of monks under a vow of silence. I was utterly bored by all this talking and eating and talking and eating; on the other hand I learned about a hundred new ways to chew food once it’s in my mouth.
Tom & Gerri also have a fairly successful son called Joe who to his parents’ disappointment has not gotten married. A rather sarcastic plot revelation might have been that he’s gay, but the script awarded the audience with no such pay-off. No, eventually he finds a girlfriend whom he does not marry by the end of this interminable saga. Perhaps that will have to wait for the year after this one. Mary, however, slightly fancies Joe and is in no way pleased to see him with a girl on his arm, and treats his girlfriend with nasty, yet subtle contempt. It is for this reason that Tom & Gerri quietly cut Mary off from their circle of friends. Maybe some people are that bitter, but not Tom & Gerri, and I find it very hard to believe that Gerri would disown her best friend of twenty years just because she made a scene in front of their son’s girlfriend. Maybe this stems from shallow characterization. Although most of the characters are sympathetic and likable in some way, I felt so aloof to them throughout the entire film. I didn’t understand who they were or what they did in the least. Gerri was supposed to be a counselor, however she never seems to help anyone, and when it becomes obvious that Mary needs some psychological help, Gerri recommends her to another counselor. Tom is an engineering geologist whose job would take up much of his time, but he never seems to be at work or anywhere else except for at home.
With each progressing season, Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter, I kept expecting something exciting or interesting to happen, but it didn’t. The movie just got more and more depressing and colorless, and the characters got more and more annoying. I’ve never heard so much vain chatter in my life. Scene after scene after scene of nothing but eating, drinking, and talking, endless talking, unfolded before my glazed over eyes. All this was irksome enough, but one thing got at me more than anything. Laughter! All the mindless cackling, chuckling, and laughing done not by the audience, but by the characters. These people laughed about everything! The simple phrase, “Eat, drink, and be merry” incited laughter. I could have shouted in my most dire voice, “Get the water! You’re foot’s on fire!” to any of the characters in the film and they would have chuckled until their lips turned blue. A typical scene went like this: Chuckle, slurp, talk, chew. I tell you, if anyone in the real world ate and drank as much as these poor souls did, they’d be as fat as a moose in two weeks (maybe they all burned off a few empty calories while yammering with each other).
I was very put off and disappointed with Another Year. It sounded like a pretty good movie, but alas I was wrong. It left me feeling drained and tired and colorless and just plain depressed. Sure, the characters wander around in the gloom of their own miserable lives, but nothing ever becomes of it. Their lives neither get better nor worse. The screenplay peaks and valleys just about as much as a dead man’s heart monitor which, as you know, isn’t very much. If it’s possible to feel “Black & White”, I certainly did after seeing this picture. With much reluctance I kept myself awake throughout the entire film, and found it boring, dull, and drab. In short: a complete emotional turn-off.
Sony Pictures Classics and Focus Features present a Film 4 and Thin Man Films production
Cast: Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen, Oliver Maltman, Peter Wright, David Bradley, Martin Savage, Karina Fernandez, Imelda Staunton. Directed by Mike Leigh
Rated PG-13 for some language. Release date: 29 December 2010
*”Life’s not always kind, is it?” Real original dialogue, isn’t it?