Sunday, August 7, 2011

Another Year

I was a little disappointed by Mike Leigh's Another Year. I'm not sure I can do a better job of explaining why than to point to this review in The Independent, in which Anthony Quinn says that he found himself "admiring the acting while questioning the authenticity of what's actually happening." But I generally think that acting should go unnoticed, so that if you are admiring the acting it probably isn't that good. My guess is that there are exaggerations needed for good stage acting that don't work in film, but I don't know.

Anyway, it's the dubious authenticity that most strikes me. Rottentomatoes (summarizing many other reviews) talks about "the director's trademark feel for the nuances of everyday life," and calls the film an "emotionally honest portrait of ordinary people trying to make sense of their lives." But some of the people seemed about as authentic as Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah's sofa to show the world that he was in love. The main characters (an aging couple called Tom and Gerri) are always happy except when they are angry at the government or disapproving of someone else for behaving badly. This is a world in which grown men (they seem to be about sixty) jump on each other for piggybacks and a 30-year-old man introduces his girlfriend to his parents by getting her to hide behind a door and shout "boo!" when they come in. Everybody laughs, of course. It's a world in which happily married couples constantly share loving smiles and say, in front of other people, things like "You're perfect in every way, darling, and you know you are." No one is embarrassed by any of this, no one rolls their eyes, and no one thinks it doesn't need to be said. Of course not everyone is like me, but I know several couples who seem very happily married, and none of them acts like this.

This is supposed to be a sad movie, one that confronts problems of bereavement, loneliness, and aging. So how can it be so chipper? By not really confronting anything, I think. The film begins with a woman reluctantly receiving counselling for the depression she would rather not acknowledge and ends with another being advised to seek the same kind of help (from an objective professional, not a friend who has the necessary professional skills, for some reason). The same woman is told that she must take responsibility for her decisions, and it is made clear that another character (who would surely die within minutes if he really ate, drank, and smoked as desperately as he does in the film) could be happily in a relationship if only he wasn't such a pig. If you're unhappy, the message seems to be, it's probably your fault. If it isn't, then seek professional help. That will do the trick.

What about death? Surely some things are just bad and there's nothing we can do to take away their sting? Well, yes and no. We see two men who have been widowed in the movie. One assures us that you get used to it and it isn't so bad. Another seems well on the way to that attitude, too, but first spends a few days with friends to help him make the transition from married life to widowed life. His manly stoicism helps too. And that seems to be it: a stiff upper lip, a lovely cup of tea, and, if all else fails, professional help can solve every problem life can throw at us. It's a positive attitude to take, but it also seems unrealistic and unsympathetic to me.


  1. I agree.

    (And not just because my husband has never said, "You're perfect in every way, darling"...)

    I also found the character of Mary almost unbearable to watch. She was so full of tics that I thought she was going to shake herself apart.

  2. Yes, I think Anthony Lane used the word "unendurable" of Mary. The review in the Independent says:

    "Lesley Manville as Mary, who maintains such a sharp note of neediness that she almost impales herself on it. As garrulous as Miss Bates, as terrified of ageing as Blanche DuBois, Mary twitches away unstoppably, her self-pity inflamed by the accelerant of white wine. Now and then the camera silently pauses on her face, and Manville lets us see every contour of fear and loneliness etched upon it. But soon she's spouting off again, about her exes, her misadventures, her malfunctioning car. It's too much, and the strain tells in the script. I have never heard three people talking together who repeatedly address one another by name ("Is that right, Mary" "Yes, Tom", etc). This (I would guess) is a result of Leigh's overcontrolling his actors, whereby their determination to act like "real people" crosses over into self-parody."

    I still thought the film was good, but it could have been a lot better.

  3. "My guess is that there are exaggerations needed for good stage acting that don't work in film, but I don't know."

    THEATRICAL acting, it's true, tends to be parodical on screen (isn't that how this word is commonly used?), whereas it would be perfectly alright on stage; but in a film MEANT as a sort of parody, exaggerations of this sort would perhaps be a good thing? Now, I haven't seen this particular movie, so I cannot tell. Not that I would expect this kind of parody from Mike Leigh. And gathering from what you (and others) have written about it, it does indeed look somewhat flawed. I am never the less comforted by you thinking it was a good movie. So I will certainly check it out. Thanks for the tip.

  4. Damn. I still haven't seen this, though I was looking forward to it. (In fact, it had slipped my mind until I saw this post. I'll have to go in with lowered expectations...)

  5. vh, yes, that sounds right. I really don't think this film is meant to be a parody though.

    Matt, low expectations is the way to go (in most cases, probably).

    I would say this is a three star movie--worth seeing, but not great. It did make many people's lists of the top ten movies of the year, though, so it may well be better than I'm making it sound.