Sunday, February 27, 2011

(Not The) Netflix Queue: Mike Leigh's "Another Year"

Three quick thoughts about Mike Leigh's "Another Year," viewed this afternoon at an actual movie theater!

• The first thing you need to know is that this trailer is a goddamn lie:

What kind of movie does this look like? Maybe a James L. Brooksian dramedy with some sad moments, but ultimately a bit of uplift? Wrong! It's a Mike Leigh movie, and Mike Leigh movies are almost unremittingly, irredeemably grim. I knew this. It's why I don't generally go watch Mike Leigh movies, no matter how well-crafted they are. I don't need my movies to be all sunshine and light, to have a happy ending every time. But there's a limit the amount of nihilism that I want to experience at the cinema, and a single Mike Leigh movie generally fills my quota for five years or so. 

• This is a movie, really, about aging. Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen are the happily married couple at the center of the movie, and they are the ones who have aged well. They have good jobs, a community garden plot they tend together getting their fingers dirty in the wet soil, and a modest but well-appointed slightly-upper-middle-class rowhome where they make great meals, drink moderate amounts of wine, and read smart books. We follow them through "another year" of their life together, but the movie isn't really about them—it's about their friends, the people they host, people who have not aged well. 

• Chief among them is Mary, played by Leslie Manville, a boozy fading beauty who has always relied on the kindness of strangers. As "Another Year" progresses, we see the sad realization dawn on her that it's too late to achieve the kind of intimacy and good feeling that Broadbent and Sheen have in their marriage. Almost every one of Manville's scenes are excruciating, a well-drawn portrait of a self-deluded woman starting to lose those illusions. But Manville's performance illustrates my chief complaint about the movie: She is a three-dimensional character, but Broadbent and Sheen are not—they are archetypes, the mythical end-states of lives well-lived. They have to be, in order to make Manville's journey as pathetic as possible. (Otherwise, they would have realized what is plain to the audience: That Manville wants to screw their grown son.) Roger Ebert writes that "Every single character in 'Another Year' is human," but he's wrong. Only one, Manville, approaches full flesh. But it's a Mike Leigh movie: It makes sense that the most fully human character is also the most depressing. 


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