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13 March 2011

One Good Turn Deserves Another

It surprised me a lot to hear that not everyone had loved The Social Network, Inception and Black Swan as much as I did. I thought, perhaps, they were just trying to be contrary for the sake of it. Having watched Another Year last night, I may have to reassess the situation. I didn't bother to see Another Year when it was on at the cinema because it didn't seem like my kind of film. I'm not the greatest Mike Leigh fan (I quite liked Happy-Go-Lucky but that was mainly because I enjoyed laughing at the Brit-directed humour while watching the film in San Francisco) and I just couldn't get excited about the plot. This is, perhaps, because there is not much plot to speak of and although almost all of the reviews I have heard or read gushed with praise for the film, much of it focused on complimenting Lesley Manville's performance as the pathetic alcoholic Mary.

Don't get me wrong; Lesley Manville was very good but wasn't enough to carry the film alone. As for the rest of the plot, the film spends a year in the life of Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen), a happily married couple in their sixties; he is a geologist, she is a counsellor and they have a grown-up lawyer son, Joe. Meanwhile, their friends and family members flit in and out of their lives, bringing drama and woe. Mary, who works with Gerri, is the main bringer-of-woe: she gets drunk a lot, she makes an embarrassing play for Joe, and when Joe introduces a new girlfriend, she makes an even bigger scene. It's pretty cringe-worthy but I think we're supposed to think how wonderful Tom and Gerri are for tolerating this woman (and the imperfections of others in their life) without much more than gentle advice and no criticism.

Actually, though, they irritate the hell out of me. For a start, you can tell that Gerri is a counsellor because she has that condescending tone; she manages to convey, "you really need to be helping yourself here," with a simple eyebrow raise. Meanwhile, the looks she and Tom share when Mary is making a scene make it clear what their true feelings are, even if they think they are being "kind" to her by not lecturing. Tom and Gerri have a certain idea of how life should be lived and what happiness means; they will see anyone who varies from this standard as something of a lesser being. Mary is horrible, sure: she's selfish, thoughtless, lazy and silly. She's also very scared and lonely and in need of help and I think that Gerri, as a trained counsellor, could have done a lot more to get her that help than she does. Even if that means yelling at Mary and telling her when she crosses the line; perhaps that would make her realise she has gone too far.

I bought Another Year because I was trying to choose a film that both Maman and Papa would enjoy but sadly, this was not the case. Maman was asleep within ten minutes (long enough to see Imelda Staunton's brief role as another "inferior person" on the receiving end of Gerri's "help"). Papa lasted a little longer but didn't turn off his laptop. This film was not a success chez nous. Not in the slightest.

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