Seasons pass, the garden’s tended, visitors come and go. “Nothing changes,” sighs one of our ensemble of mostly middle-aged, middle-class Londoners, though that’s not always bad news where certain cinematic yields are concerned. Honestly, I’m not sure that any new ground is broken in writer/director Mike Leigh’s latest multi-character study, yet it somehow feels fresh anyway. Another Year is chatty and rambling, busy yet plot-free, tender yet merciless about how life can just keep getting more unruly and incomprehensible, and, despite a number of chronically anxious, substance-abusing or otherwise depressed supporting characters—not to mention a harp-heavy score from Gary Yershon that creeps into New Ageyness—it’s also very, very funny.
Tom and Gerri (those sturdiest of Leigh vets, Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen), a chipper geologist and warmly maternal psychologist respectively, are the film’s collective rock. Lucky to have each other, they’re not flawless people, yet each possesses that rare gift for contentment, so much so that you might find yourself wondering if, like Leigh’s recent Happy-Go-Lucky, their story mightn’t become another cautionary tale about the tyranny of the well-adjusted. The film is built around the couple’s hosting at least four festive gatherings and a funeral. At nearly every one of these occasions Mary (Lesley Manville, mannered yet so precise) turns up, merrily envies her patient friends, gets plastered, and only gradually learns not to put the moves on their son (Oliver Maltman). Perhaps she needs someone to help, and she might just find it in an ashen widower (David Bradley) who looks like Motörhead’s Lemmy if Lemmy were a vampire. Good old Ken (Peter Wright) meanwhile may not ever learn to moderate his food intake, nor to stop two-fisting the lager, nor recover his unobstructed view of his own lap, but there’s always hope. Such things take time. Fortunately, Another Year is so pleasurable and sometimes touching that you won’t be in a hurry.