Hopes and Dreams might be a more apt title for this film, the latest from acclaimed director Mike Leigh.
It’s like watching someone drown as Mary sinks beneath the weight of complete self-absorption, her face just capable of twitching into an attempted smile, the ghost of a wish to belong to the race of humans.
Lesley Manville plays Mary and it’s a brilliant performance. Her voice runs up and down the scale and dashes through thoughts and feelings like a squirrel looking for a nut as the sky darkens and the freezing rain begins to fall.
Mike Leigh makes these great roles for actors, usually women, and then he lets them do what actors seldom get a chance to do: He lets them live in front of the camera.
It’s interesting that over and over again performances in his films are celebrated at awards ceremonies and in the press, because the characters he gives us are so deliberately ordinary. They drive useful, practical cars, live middle class lives, and they look ordinary, too. Not one Jennifer Garner or George Clooney amongst them.
Mike Leigh writes these characters and he observes them carefully, but never sentimentally. We are challenged to live with the despair, the pathos of Mary for two hours. We are challenged to at first watch and enjoy the happiness of Tom and Gerri, the comfortable couple at the center of the film. But as the seasons pass they become too self-satisfied, too insulated from the pain and desperation of their friends, and they are difficult to like.
It is not an easy film. It is not a film that lies to you, and it is not a film that tells you what you want to hear. But it tells you what is there and what is true. And the simple artistry of observation should still bring us joy in spite of all the special effects, fast cars, perfect teeth and super heroes we have had to watch.
Another Year opens Jan. 28 at the Oriental Theater. For tickets and information, click here.