Writer/director Mike Leigh's latest picture is both as messy and mundane as a year in anyone's life.
The auteur of the justifiably celebrated Vera Drake, Happy-Go-Lucky and Secrets & Lies has a knack for making feature films that look and feel like real life. His latest picture takes us, season by season, through the year in the life of a happily married couple (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) in their 60s.
It's a marriage of equals between Tom and Gerri, and they remain content in their life together in spite of the drama that sometimes swirls around them. That drama comes mostly in the form of Mary (Lesley Manville, who was robbed of an Oscar nod this year for her brilliant performance of a lonely co-worker of Gerri's), a frequent visitor to Tom and Gerri's modest home.
We get the feeling Gerri tolerates Mary more than anything, and indeed Mary can make everyone around her -- including the audience -- feel awkward. She drinks too much, tries too hard, comes on too strong and begs for people's pity as much as for their friendship. This is an ensemble cast, but Manville is first among equals.
Just as in real life, people come in and out of the main characters' lives. We meet characters we think will be significant, but they turn out to be peripheral. That's not sloppy filmmaking. That's life.
Leigh uses the metaphor of a garden to introduce each season. Tom and Gerri lovingly nurture their plot just as they do their crazy, needy friends and family. Each season bring its unique joys and challenges. Some problems fade away or get resolved; others keep recurring.
Another Year is an ode to love -- mature, romantic love and the love between friends -- and a celebration of life. It's a wonder. See it.