Another Year: Mike Leigh's Study of a Happy Marriage

Some wrongheaded critics have called the happily- and long-married couple at the center of Mike Leigh's new seriocomedy "smug," which is to miss the point of both marriage and movie. Gerri (Ruth Sheen) and Tom (Jim Broadbent) are middle-class English boomers nearing retirement. Their careers are settled, their lives content, though their sole son remains dangerously unmarried. Most of the film's drama, as it passes through four seasons, arises from Gerri's co-worker Mary (Lesley Manville, with Oscar talk swirling), a needy, manless alcoholic who lurches from one disaster to the next. Is Leigh cruelly comparing her shortsightedness to the stolid striving of Gerri and Tom? That would be too simple. Neither they, nor we, should be expected to judge and condemn poor, self-pitying Mary. Her conduct isn't a cautionary lesson; and Another Year isn't a cricket/ant fable stacked against the solitary drinkers we all know—and may be ourselves. Rather, in his sociological and almost clinical scrutiny, Leigh has made a film about luck—luck in love, luck in marriage, luck in careers, luck in all its terrible, aleatory gusts. The exasperation and concern Gerri and Tom feel for the sometimes resentful Mary isn't clucking condescension. It's relief. Because they know their lives could've turned out differently (and Leigh supplies other examples of misfortune besides Mary's). The tide of misery is ever-lapping against their door. That they should remain secure and dry is something of a small, daily miracle. Far from being oblivious to the human desperation all around them (Mary's included), they're hardly smug marrieds. Shell-shocked survivors is more like it.

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