Mike Leigh has always been known for making movies more about characters than stories, building his script around the improvisation of his actors as they learn who their characters really are. With his last two films, he seems to be trying something else as well; he wants to tell stories about happy people. I loved “Happy-Go-Lucky,” his last film, which starred Sally Harris as an eternally cheery schoolteacher who refuses to let the satanic ramblings of her driving instructor (played memorably by Eddie Marsan) get her down. It’s an engaging battle of personalitis, and Harris wins out in the end.
Leigh tries to do the same thing with “Another Year,” and, while there are plenty of things to love about this film, it doesn’t quite work as well. Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen do great work as a happily married couple; you will want to meet these people, and maybe to be like them. Around them swirl a milieu of friends who are quite as happy, wise or well-adjusted, and they continually, consistently extend grace, and hospitality – but never judgment – to their friends, providing a safe place for them to reflect on how their lives went wrong, and what to do next.
Read the full review here.