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Home » Culture and Criticism

Another Year

Submitted by on February 25, 2011 – 3:28 PM10 Comments

two more casualties of the Oscars Death Race

Sarah 49, Death Race 7; 21 of 24 categories completed

(Stay tuned through the weekend for a Documentary Shorts roundup; a predictions entry, whose prognostications you should do the opposite of in your Oscar pool; and the Oscars live-blog I’m doing over at NPR with Monkey See poobah Miss Alli and the other half of Team Venti, Joe R.)

Eat many bees, Angelika Theater. I hadn’t seen a movie there in ages and this morning’s bullshit is why. They couldn’t get the film threaded properly for a good 15 minutes (insert your own “Another Year is how long it took them to get their shit together” joke here) (except: not a joke) (…BEES), and then they turned on the air conditioning, plus Theater 5 isn’t soundproofed so it sounded like I was seeing the movie from inside a washing machine. Filled with bees. Chilly, angry, delayed bees.

ANYWAY: Another Year. A recent discussion on the Extra Hot Great podcast centered on the sort of Saturday Night Live sketch that’s entirely frontloaded: the title/concept is funny, and you may get a chuckle from the way it’s presented visually, but the returns diminish to the disappearing point after about 13 seconds.

You could infer from that reference that I don’t have much use for Another Year, but that’s not the case. It’s a character study, if the character is a single couple’s social circle, and it observes various things in that biosphere extremely well — for example, the tendency of the husband to speak more impatiently to the bedraggled singleton’s problems. I admired the performances, and I quite liked Imelda Staunton as Gerri’s stubborn patient; the bleakly lit, elliptical afternoon Mary and Ronnie pass, and the sense that something has happened to her well beyond tying one on the night before; and of course the miserable, pitiable scene in which the entire family, including “Auntie Mary,” meets Joe’s new girlfriend.

But such care is taken with Mary and her specific breed of uncomfortable, the tone-deaf chattering, the needy flirting, the too-young wardrobe and accessories, but then it doesn’t go much of anywhere, because it can’t. It’s a snapshot, almost more than a story. We all know people like Mary, and Ken; we all know couples like Tom and Gerri (…har), whose placidity can seem like a reproach; we all think about what becomes of the Ronnies of the world. The juxtaposition of the characters’ various situations is very deft indeed, and at times I got such a strong sense of the atmosphere that I wanted to run either away or, in the case of tipsy Ken looming over the infant at the cookout, towards, to prevent a disaster. But: and? Yes, the film is screaming uncomfortable at times, in immediately recognizable and relatable ways. What else?

We do see one other friend of Gerri and Tom’s, but beyond him, it’s unclear whether they have any other friends — which I think is important. Leigh wants to say something about friendships and family, and compassion, but if the couple’s relationship with Mary is as dependent on her as she is on them, what Leigh wants to say changes. And if it isn’t, I don’t think I know why he needed two-plus hours to show us that some older ladies drown their denial in Chardonnay.

“Especially when he could have just set up a webcam in your den” OH HA HA HA HA HA [slurp] I love you guyssshh.

Leigh’s style of scripting makes the Original Screenplay nomination a little strange — i.e., shouldn’t the entire cast share it? — but it could win. I have a bunch of questions about intent, as I’ve mentioned, but 1) maybe I’m supposed to, which is fine, and 2) the other nominees, with the exception of The King’s Speech, aren’t as strong structurally as AY.




  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    I saw this in a theater that was quite an expidition to get to–long bus ride to a part of town I don’t frequent, trying desperately to find an entrance into the giant, practically deserted mall that housed the theater, the theater itself: a huge, gaudy spaceship/casino that seemed to be built for Cecil B. DeMille multitudes, containing maybe six people. And finally, having arrived earlier than needed (thanks, odd-scheduled bus system)listening to a good 45 minutes of Muzak and wearily trying to ignore the annoying/painful “trivia” flashing on the screen.

    But it was worth it, because I really, really liked this film. Mike Leigh is a director that rewards patience, and expects you to want to see what happens to the people he presents, without explosions or over dramatic happenstance. You start out watching, and after a few scenes you think “Okay, I know all about these people. I know that guy, and him, and hoo boy do I know her.”

    But you keep watching, and you discover that the “everything” you knew is just scratching the surface.

    Mary as a character is one of the most brilliant observations I’ve seen on film in years. The way her clothes are young, but not in the shorthand way we mean when we say, hintingly, “Well, she dresses…a little too young.” The clothes aren’t overty sexy/flirty, or too short, or cheaply made. They’re just the clothes that suited her best ten, fifteen years ago, and she’s still wearing them because that time was when she looked her best and she’s trying to hang onto it.

    And as annoying as Mary is, the indulgence Tom and Geri show her starts to grate, and you realize it’s grating on her too. The barbeque where everyone is subliminally signaling her to get with Ken–a huge, bloated, mouthbreather who wears an adolescent tee and sweatpants to an adult gathering and gets so blind plastered he literally can’t move, freezes in place. Charming. But Mary wants romance, and Ken’s the extra guy around here, so she should take him and be grateful.

    It’s insulting, and Mary knows it. She can’t express it, and her desire for Ronnie is embarrassing, but not in the way everyone wants it to be, in the way they’ve become used to thinking about her. But what can she do? She’s at an age where it’s not easy to make new freinds, and if she loses this group, she’s got no one. You understand her, but you really, really, really wish she’d stand up and throw something during the last moments of the film.

  • Monty says:

    I admire the creation of Mary, but I couldn’t stand her. I was much more interested in the relationship between Tom and Gerri, which seemed to be 100% functional and happy. I really liked the moment when Tom said, “Well, if you don’t know what to do about her, I certainly don’t.” The cheerful division of responsibilities had clearly taken place decades earlier.

  • Todd K says:

    The unspoken expectation that Mary should get together with Ken could be insulting to her, but on the other hand, he is the way he is in large part because of unmet needs and loneliness, and she’s in a similar boat. Maybe they would help each other, or maybe they would encourage even worse in each other. But she isn’t getting anywhere by daydreaming about guys like the one in the restaurant, or about her friend’s son.

    One of the themes of the film, as I saw it, is the way sympathy and compassion can be tools people use to reassure and elevate themselves as much as to aid someone else. Gerri *shudders* when she closes the door on the blackly depressed Janet, after their session (“What would make things better?” “[long pause] A different life”). Gerri and Tom barely hide the pointed looks they shoot each other when their have-not friends are around being pitiable. Mary, this black hole of need, has Ken as the one person in the film’s universe to whom she can condescend. She pulls Gerri aside and conspiratorially talks about how he’s not really all that bad-looking; what a shame he’s gotten so fat. When he tries to interact with her, she treats him in the same strained-polite, evasive manner her “betters” treat her. She’s brutal in telling him she considers herself out of his league (as Joe is out of Mary’s, something of which she is in denial at that point).

    I agree that every moment of the film was brilliantly observed; it was my favorite of the year. What I got as the substance of it (the “there” there, or the “And…?”) was that some people reach late middle age in more secure and happy positions than others, just as some people come home from the war with all four limbs intact, or not suffering from PTSD or deteriorating lungs. Sadly, for some, it isn’t going to get better; the best *is* behind. As amusing as Another Year sometimes is along the way, it’s unsparing about who these people are and what they can reasonably expect, and it sees very clearly what everyone in it gets out of his or her relationship with the other.

    People talked about having a hard time getting through 127 Hours, and I have friends who literally cannot/will not see it. That was a cakewalk for me. Even though I know that it was fact-based, and the illusions were technically well done, I just had to tell myself I was watching perfectly healthy actor James Franco sawing at some top-notch movie prosthetics and drinking apple juice. No sweat. There are a few scenes in Another Year that I found excruciating, to the point where I was physically squirming and wanting to look away and/or cover my ears. And they involve nothing more than social discomfort, and people showing up unexpectedly and being asses, and pathetic unrealistic hopes being crushed, and the stench of desperation. Specifically, I’m thinking of Mary coming on to Joe, with that painful “How old do you think I look?” routine (in which she is clearly hoping to God he will say “35,” and long moments pass uncomfortably as the bright afternoon sun shows up every carefully powdered wrinkle); the first scene involving Joe’s girlfriend; and Carl making that awful scene at the wake, as those bit-player women who barely knew the deceased try to will themselves to disappear through the floor.

    The film was undernominated, and Lesley Manville wuz robbed. Maybe caught between categories? I would call that a supporting performance, but I know the National Board of Review gave her best lead actress.

  • attica says:

    I lack a bit of patience with Mike Leigh. I totally get why actors line up to work with him, and I totally get why he values performance over plot, but I’ve been dragged to way too many friends’ workshops to find watching Leigh’s filmic ones delightful. Sure, some are more watchable than others, but I really have to be in the mood before I sit down to one, which means I’ll never go out to the theaters to see them.

    Also, I haven’t been to the Angelika in decades. Rodents cavorting over my tootsies put a right end to that. I give you points for bravery, Sars. Seriously — they have a market cornered. You think they could spring for some fundamental upkeep.

  • DuchessKitty says:

    Oh my God, this movie. I in turns loved it and loathed it. I really hated the way it ended so abruptly; that last scene with the camera lingering on Mary’s sad face, the audience never knowing why she came over that day with her sadness, whether she and Ronnie will go anywhere. I wanted more resolution. But on the other hand the movie felt way too long. And a lot of scenes seem wasted. I mean I love Imelda Stauton but why did we need the first 15 minutes of the movie?
    I’m glad I saw this by myself; most people I know wouldn’t have had the patience and would’ve been super frustrated. But ultimately I’m glad I saw it.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    I liked the Staunton part, because I thought it set up the theme of people thinking that they’ve accepted reality and they’re doing fine, when really they haven’t and they’re not.

  • Todd K says:

    I also liked the Staunton bit for its artful misdirection. The first two characters we meet, Tanya and Janet, turn out to be peripheral. They are a means of getting us to Gerri. When you think back on it later, that first scene — a wounded person and a more “together” one playing the sympathetic role, but distantly and to limited effect — hits a lot of the thematic buttons quickly. Janet is not part of the story’s main circle, but an example of how people can end up when they’re miserable and emotionally isolated for a long time. I saw Janet and the nearly mute Ronnie, who comes in near the end of the film, as bookends. (The blubbering Ken, who is only in the middle, is part of the design too.)

    Reading some of the screenplay on line, I had even greater appreciation for the actors. There are lines that are borderline-clunky exposition on the page. After the first mention of Joe, “Oh, have you spoken to my son and heir?” The “Saint Gerri”/”My halo is slipping” exchange that reads like ESTABLISH CHARACTER’S SUPPORTIVE NATURE HERE. Those weaknesses did not register at all when I was watching it. Everything *sounded* so…seamless. Natural.

    Finally, one question for anyone to field: Was the Gerri/Mary period of estrangement (“You let me down…This is my family”) a result of Mary’s rudeness to Katie or something worse later, off screen? I assumed the latter, but this seems to be a point of contention.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Todd: It doesn’t seem like the kind of movie that would let something of that sort happen offscreen. That said, it makes more sense that it’s the latter, because based on their reactions in the scene, and then that brief scene afterwards where Gerri says she’s disappointed but doesn’t really come off that angry, the obvious rift between them didn’t add up, quite.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Todd, I think the riff was begun by what was shown onscreen, but widened by Gerri’s inability to acknowledge that some of her personality went into that (non)fight. When Mary tearfully says they’re not freinds anymore, “not like we were”, you can see the defensiveness and blocking in Mary’s eyes, even as she tries to maintain her St. Gerri mentality. You can tell her subconcious was using Mary’s rudeness as an excuse to distance herself, not as the reason she did.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Whoops, that sentence should read “Defensiveness and blocking in GERRI’S eyes.” Doesn’t make much sense the other way round.

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