In a summertime frenzy of seeing the films of the moment, I took myself off to Mike Leigh’s latest, which is, of course, Another Year. Part of the reason I made sure I went was because I had been swayed by a certain reviewer making the bold declaration that it was his ‘movie of the year’ so far. What I should have done was pay more attention to the fact that when this man was making that particular pronouncement, it was still only January. Nonetheless, I stood firm against all the people I knew who rolled their eyes when I told them of my plans and asked me why I was doing it to myself. Well, I was doing it to myself because I am in no way averse to a spot of good old English depressingness. I can recall exactly how much I enjoyed watching EastEnders back in the eighties because, no matter how dismal my life was at the time, I was Coco Chanel compared with the denizens of the Albert Square laundrette and ‘caf’.
Now, it goes without saying that you can count on an English film to make even a potentially upbeat situation into one of grinding misery. Take Intimacy, where you have a central premise of two people obsessively shagging reduced to a whole lot of joyless sex in overcoats. So, given that Another Year essentially concerns the doings – or, rather, non-doings – of a couple, Tom and Gerri, who, we are never allowed to forget, are in late middle age, and their dreary friends and relations, I wasn’t exactly expecting something along the lines of Diana Ross’s adventures in Mahogany. However, there was even more than I had expected of the following features: the viewer being able to see every pore in the actors’ faces; heavy rain; terrace houses; building sites; and tea from Thermoses. All the above are accompanied by a surfeit of mournful violin music. Don’t think, though, that Another Year doesn’t contribute its own special doleful touches, including an ill-attended funeral held in the snow, plus, after the funeral, horrid-looking food served in a dwelling that has all the good cheer of the House of Usher.
What gives Another Year its own particular touch of horror, however, is the presence of Tom and Gerri’s pathetic single friends. Tom’s single friend, Ken, not only spends his time reeling around drunkenly in tracksuit pants but also has a limp. The person who is most like something out of a genuinely scary ghost train at a funfair, though, and only partly because she’s in the film more than is Ken, is Gerri’s single friend, Mary. This character is a blur of dyed hair; dangling earrings; bedazzled hoodies; fagging on; having one too many wines; the telling of long, uninteresting anecdotes; and inappropriate flirting. Apropos of nothing is the fact that Lesley Manville plays Mary and that, while watching her on screen, I kept remembering back to when Gary Oldman (whom I first saw playing a skinhead, natch, in another of Leigh’s films, Meantime) left her for his second wife, Uma Thurman, back when Thurman was at her most boob-tastic, and how happy Manville must have been when Oldman then found himself back in the divorce court post haste. I was also preoccupied with why Tom and Gerri would keep socialising with these individuals and the only answer that sprang to mind was that they were so boring themselves and/or enjoyed patronising their loser friends.
Another Year is unquestionably handsomely acted but the chief problem I had with it is that it is almost as pointless a motion picture as I have ever seen. Having really scratched my head to find the film’s meaning, though, as well as having read and listened to others’ viewpoints, it seems to me that the two things it is possibly trying to say are that, first, single people might as well commit suicide and stop being a burden on everyone around them; and, second, that if you’re a big, fat pain, you will end up alone in the world, and if you’re not, you won’t. Leigh is plainly incorrect regarding the first of these and is only partly correct regarding the second. Putting aside all the many individuals on this earth who are glad to be single, some people are single because they’re beastly and some people are single simply because they’ve had ill-deserved bad luck; all this is without even mentioning the phenomenon of all the truly vile, or merely unprepossessing, people who have found themselves a life partner. Yes, Mary is profoundly irritating but who’s to say she didn’t become so irritating in part due to her run of misfortune with gentlemen, rather than her having had the run of misfortune because she’s so irritating?
One of the few plot developments is when Tom and Gerri’s son, who is the principal person with whom Mary has been inappropriately flirting, finally gets himself a cheerful young girlfriend, called Katie. The appearance of Katie gives further support to the notion that the point of Another Year is that you are less likely to get on everyone’s nerves if you are merry, as opposed to going on boringly about how awful your life is, not to mention about everything else. The only trouble, though, is that Katie is easily as irritating as Mary, and I would argue more so, as she seems to have an IQ of about thirty, given her endless gormless nattering and incessant unwarranted high spirits. At one point, she says, moronically, ‘They know how to enjoy themselves, the Aussies.’ Apparently not, as they’re all heading off in droves to Another Year. ‘Life’s not always kind, is it?’ Gerri intones at one point. Well, no, it’s not but I am fairly confident we all knew that anyway, especially those who are veterans of Leigh’s oeuvre.
While I was exiting the bathroom after the film had, not a minute too soon, finished, I got into conversation with a very posh elderly lady, who told me how much she’d enjoyed Another Year, as it hadn’t just been ‘action, action, action’. Well, that is certainly no less than the truth. I never could have predicted this but after seeing Another Year, I felt nostalgic for Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere, as at least it had started off with a man in a racing car. The thing is, I would have predicted that I’d hate Somewhere far more than Another Year, which, in fact, I wasn’t expecting to hate at all. With Somewhere, yes, I was bored to death for about an hour and a half but could see that S Coppola was attempting to say something about, perhaps, the ultimate meaningless of fame when it comes to functioning as a human being in the world. At least, unlike Mike Leigh and Another Year, she and her film would warrant Addison DeWitt’s concessionary words, ‘You have a point. An idiotic one, but a point.’