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Movie review: 'Another Year' (4 stars)

"Another Year"

"Another Year" Credit: A scene from "Another Year"

Another Year
4 stars
Written and directed by Mike Leigh
Starring Ruth Sheen, Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville

On paper, “Another Year” is a humble story about a couple living out their autumn years in quiet bliss. Emotionally speaking, though, it’s epic. Writer and director Mike Leigh has composed a beautiful hymn to the small but immeasurable joys and grievances of the human experience.

Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen star as married couple Tom and Gerri, who spend their free hours tending their garden, reading the paper together and hosting friends for lunch and tea. Their moods and disposition complement each other as perfectly as the cuteness of their names. Idyllic relationships are a rarity in film — why focus on a happy couple when there’s endless fodder in dysfunction? The strife here, though, lies not between Tom and Gerri, but amid the people who populate their life.

Leigh follows Tom and Gerri through four seasons, tracking the course of their relationships with various friends as well as their 30-something son. Mary, played with remarkable poignancy by Lesley Manville, is the friend who moves you most. Scraping along through middle-aged singledom, she is in constant pursuit of a happier life. She chatters and preens like a coquette, but her immense vulnerability is achingly evident, especially as her desperation for male attention grows ever more persistent. Gradually, you become invested in Mary’s fate — and what it means to Tom and Gerri.

Many films that aspire to verisimilitude still feel, in the end, like mere approximations of truth. Not so with “Another Year.” Leigh’s thoughtful, observant writing is straight from the heart and the performances are genuine all around. “Another Year” is one precious gem.

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