Fans of the British writer-director Mike Leigh will expect his latest, "Another Year," to be a typically bitter pill. For the uninitiated, the film ought to come with a warning label: May cause acute self-recognition, discomfort and depression. Avoid viewing alone, or within reach of sharp objects. If side effects persist, consult a therapist.
That's not to say the film isn't enjoyable, hugely rewarding and even funny - in an aching way, of course. It follows a year in the life of an older couple, Tom (Jim Broadbent), a cheerful geologist, and Gerri (Ruth Sheen), a kindhearted medical counselor. They're unremarkable aside from their serendipitous names and this one fact: They're happy.
The same can't be said for almost anyone around them. Tom's boyhood pal Ken (Peter Wight) is an overweight, chain-smoking alcoholic. Gerri's co-worker Mary clings to youth while spiraling toward spinsterdom; she is played by an utterly shattering Lesley Manville. The couple's grown son, Joe (Oliver Maltman), covers his loneliness with sour humor.
As personalities crumble before us, a question arises: Why are Tom and Gerri so darn content? What's their secret? Could it be - gulp - that they're kind of bland and trivial? Perhaps they aren't staring into life's abyss because they don't even know it's there.
"Another Year" is another sly, existential ambush from Leigh ("Naked," "Life Is Sweet"), who doesn't need to turn his camera backward to put you, the viewer, onscreen and in agonizing close-up. See it at your own risk - but don't miss it.