"Another Year" opens with an incredibly depressed woman (Imelda Staunton, who starred in "Vera Drake") undergoing a doctor-mandated therapy session in order to obtain sleeping pills. This sets the tone for the rest of the film, in which several of the main characters are absolutely miserable.
Gerri, the therapist, and her husband Tom, a geologist, are the happy ones. Now about sixty, they've been together since college. They garden together, they cook together, they still very much enjoy each other's company and the occasional glass of wine. They're close - but not too close - with their 30-year-old son, Joe, a pleasant, moon-faced, fair-housing advocate who hasn't quite met the right girl yet.
The film covers an entire year in the ordinary lives of Tom and Gerri. It includes a summer visit by Tom's old friend Ken, an extremely lonely lush who sees life passing him by but is too depressed to do anything about it. He drinks too much, he smokes too much, he eats too much...these are his only pleasures. Tom suggests the two of them take a walking holiday in the fall, stopping at pubs along the way. Sounded great to me, but Ken turns him down. What's the point, I suppose.
In the winter, we're introduced to Tom's recently-widowed older brother, Ronnie, who's so overcome by grief that he mostly just stares off into space. We also meet Ronnie's estranged son Carl, a pugnacious, tightly-wound little man who arrives late for his own mother's funeral and then takes his anger/hurt out on everyone else in the family.
But it's Mary, a 45-ish, childless, divorced secretary at Gerri's medical center, whose struggles are at the forefront of the film. Initially, she seems to be really fun and happy. She regularly uses the word "lovely", which to me is a sure sign of a positive outlook, but maybe it's just a British thing.
It's not long before we learn that Mary's life isn't as "lovely" as it first seems to be. In fact, she's a bit of a mess. She drinks way too much, she's completely self-absorbed, and she's unattractively desperate...desperate for a boyfriend, desperate even for a friend. After an apparently carefree youth spent bartending in Greece and a failed early marriage, Mary went on to have an affair with a married man that ended badly and now finds herself plunging into middle-age with nothing to show for it but a drinking problem. She hits on Joe, who she's known since he was ten; she hits on almost every guy she ever meets except for Ken, who's too repulsive even for her.
The characters in "Another Year" are far less physically attractive than those you'd find in a Hollywood film. It's weak chins, bad hair, and overbites all around - a refreshing collection of people you'd more expect to see riding the bus than appearing on your movie screen. Ironically, Mary is the best looking of the bunch, though she's also perhaps the least happy.
Though it's somewhat gratifying to watch Tom and Gerri enjoying the simple pleasures of their quite unremarkable lives over the course of a year, it's Mary's unhappiness that really stuck with me, I suppose because my own life is a lot closer to Mary's than it is to Tom and Gerri's, except for the drinking, smoking, divorce, desperation, and use of the word "lovely". I found the film to be quite depressing, but I suppose it really depends on which character you most identify with.
Which isn't to say that you shouldn't see it. It's definitely a bit difficult to watch at times, but I still highly recommend this movie. Though I don't really aspire to a life of contentedly drinking cup after cup of tea with my kind, sproingy-haired husband, there's no denying the realism of this regular-people version of happiness or the pedestrian appeal of sliding gracefully into old age with your best friend and gardening partner, completely comfortable with who you are.
In a world of overblown Hollywood productions, this depiction of not-so-beautiful people quietly leading their "lovely" (and not so lovely) lives is a real breath of fresh air.