Storytelling relies on conflict and the yearning for resolution, which means that family centered tales are usually brimming with strife. Another Year, then, is all the more interesting. It centers around Tom and Gerri, a cozy happily married couple who take in their alcoholic friend Mary like a stray, emotionally unstable dog.
Structured by the four seasons, the films showcases the comfortable companionship between Gerri (Ruth Sheen) and Tom (Jim Broadbent), the emotional anchor for the film. Gerri’s friend Mary (Lesley Manville) visits during each of the four acts. Mary’s twitchy mouse energy is relentless, and moments of losing her verbal momentum (or drinking momentum for that matter) only allows the cold, sad loneliness to crack her open before her friends. A woman who looks to be in her 50’s (Manville herself was born in ’56), Mary is smitten with Tom and Gerri’s 30-year-old son Joe, which leads to awkwardness and calamity when Joe brings his new girlfriend to meet the parents.
All of which makes it sound like a bloated drama, but the dialogue is rapid fire hilarity, with occasional shots fired across the bow (and over the head) of characters in a way that will make you want to shout, “Oh snap!” Such wordsmith wizardry is what British films are known for and Another Year is another fine example of the country’s comedic sensibilities.
But like Judd Apatow and even arguably Kevin Smith, Leigh uses the outlandish comedy aspects to lead the film to sublimely affective moments; he’s not merely mining for cheap chuckles.
When the laughter fades away into silence, Leigh’s selective use of close-ups is classic magician misdirection: You’re focusing so much on the dialogue that when people shut up, quiet glances and beats of silence ring out like gunfire.
Despite the fact that Gerri and Tom provide the film’s foundation, Lesley Manville as the frazzled Mary is one of the standout performances of 2010. An interesting counterpoint to Poppy from Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky (who was always loving, quiet, and together), Manville channels this outlandish character with sad sincerity that in lesser hands would have been overbearingly annoying and caricature. Instead, you can see the emotional fireworks exploding just beneath her skin. Gold star sticker for you, Ms. Manville.
Another Year is a fantastic comedy whose conclusion descends like the door of a coffin, which, in its open, yet final shot is one of the ballsiest moves of recent memory. Manville’s performance alone is something to behold and is deserving of your attention. Romantic comedy never looked so good.