"Why do I always get it wrong, Gerri?"

Another Year

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            Director Mike Leigh never, ever fails to hold our attention. His signature style of handing his actors an outline rather than a script results in rare authenticity. Leigh's new Another Year moves very slowly through a year in the lives of Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen). It is quickly clear that this thoroughly stable couple is the go to anchor for their friends who arrive carrying troubles both trivial and major.
            Gerri works as a psychotherapist in a hospital where she counsels people with perceptive insights and quiet questions. Tom is an oil geologist. In an otherwise ordinary life, Tom and Gerri have achieved something extraordinary with each other and within themselves. They never overreact; they are empathetic without giving advice. They are absolutely comfortable with each other and with their lives. Their friends come to them less to have their problems solved than simply to be near contentment in the hope that it might rub off..
            Whenever they are home, they are either digging in their big garden or receiving visitors at the kitchen table. Food and comfort are readily available to all comers. Their most steady guest is Mary (Lesley Manville), a hospital colleague of Gerri's who, though she appreciates her good job and nice flat, is unbearably lonely. After failed relationships, she has no one to talk to , no one to be with. "Why do I always get it wrong, Gerri?" Her drinking is the measure of her depression. Mary is unable to watch the contentment of other people without resentment. She can see people only as they affect her.
            Ken (Peter Wight), another alcoholic, sweats as he swills beer, wine, and food simultaneously while bulking up to obesity. His impending retirement represents an empty new world, and the bars that have been his home are newly filled with noisy young people.
            Tom and Gerri's son Joe (Oliver Maltman), a marvelous replica of his well adjusted parents - is nothing special, mind you, just a good guy moving nicely through life. When at last he finds Katie (Karina Fernandez) as his intended bride, his parents are warm and welcoming, and characteristically without suggestions or interference. They have contentment that is many layers deep. In Gerri, director Leigh has created a woman so calm and contained that she seems to have no interior mess to pour forth. She and Tom just take what comes. No problems, no need for solutions.
            The people who pass through their house are drawn by the sight of quiet pleasure so understated and unfathomable that none of them can figure it out. Tom and Gerri have each other, their family, their work and their garden. There are no beautiful people in this film, no stars - just gifted actors who are able to respond to Mike Leigh's invitation to create their own characters with the result that we feel like guests in the house watching ordinary life unfold.



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