Sign in using your account with
Another Year: Slow-Paced Family Drama
Rarely does a film manage both commercial success and critical acclaim; maybe because the material that appeals to critics doesn’t always attract a broad audience. This is the case with Another Year, which made critics speechless, was nominated for several Academy Awards, and left many audiences a bit sleepy.
Another Year revolves around a happily married couple in the autumn of their years. He (Broadbent) is a geologist, and she (Sheen) a psychiatrist. Through the course of four seasons, the film gives insight into their lives and their mostly miserable friends’, each bearing his or her share of stories of loneliness, loss and regret.
Director and writer Mike Leigh, who also wrote and directed the cheerful Happy-Go-Lucky (2008), leaves his trademark combination of witty and sarcastic views on life’s problems; though this time he’s far less optimistic. The film’s characters are well-portrayed and relatable with their own distinct personalities and sets of problems, including the family’s best friend (Manville), who’s usually fretful and nervous.
The film’s plot is slow-paced and uneventful, there are neither complexities nor unexpected twists; instead, the film follows normal day-to-day events. The film has many characters, most of whom seem to have a deep background story that isn’t revealed. The result is a well-executed chronological account but, most importantly, a two-hour film in which little happens.
One thing that the film thrives to be is emotional. From the first scene of a woman’s visit to a psychiatrist to the last scene, most of the characters seem depressed, even when acting otherwise, which really calls for a round of applause for the cast who have managed to perfectly portray the hidden sadness without much of a story.
Another Year lives up to its title; just another year of some people’s lives. It expresses a different side to what we may take for granted and offers a closer look into an old couple’s home, family and friends. This film may be hard to stomach if you’re expecting an exciting and entertaining spectacle, which explains the film’s limited release and its lack of appeal to mainstream audiences.
This film was doomed to fail from the start. It takes an icon, known for both her sex appeal and her wish to be viewed as something more than that, and tells her story from the point of view of a man who’s in thrall of the screen siren side of her. When the protagonist sees Marilyn in this light, it becomes almost impossible for the viewer to perceive her in any other way, no matter how many Marilyn-the-person as opposed to Marilyn-the-star scenes the film may have. The film falls into the same trap as the general public, even when it takes special care to avoid doing so. And while this doesn’t make the film a complete failure, it does severely impact it and give it a sense of futility.
Colin Clark (Redmayne), a lowly assistant director on the set of The Prince & the Showgirl, grows close to Marilyn Monroe (Williams), the film’s female star. He quickly gains her trust and with it, a front row seat to her handler-approved, pill-popping loneliness and crippling confidence issues. Despite her status as a married woman and a myriad of warnings against doing so, he falls in love with her.
Marilyn occupies a very strange place in the public consciousness;
everybody’s heard of her and seen the picture of her standing over an air vent
with her dress billowing about, yet not many people have seen her films, let
alone know anything about her considerable comedic talent. Still, as an icon,
she’s ubiquitous and it’s mainly because of this that Williams’ portrayal of
her hews closer to mimicry.
Williams is a fantastic actress and there are some scenes in which the resemblance between the two is uncanny, both in looks and mannerisms, yet Monroe is too big a part of pop culture for such a straightforward take on her life. An approach such as the one used in the Bob Dylan biopic, I’m Not There, may have been more effective. Six different actors, of varying ages, genders and races, were chosen to portray different aspects of the legend. Such a radical approach makes it easier to let go of the image ingrained in your mind and leaves you more open to a different idea of the film’s subject.
There’s also the fact that Colin is the film’s narrator and so, by
default, we’re not getting to know the ‘real’ Marilyn; we’re seeing his
perception of the ‘real’ Marilyn. The film is apparently based on a true story,
which is rather hard to believe when Colin is everything that Marilyn is said
to have hated. In the film, she rails against people who only see her as the
sum total of her sex appeal yet Colin seems star struck, bordering on servile.
He seems completely spineless and Redmayne doesn’t do much with him to make him
The film doesn’t get deep enough into Marilyn’s issues to explain why she would tote him around everywhere when she has a couple of cronies at her beck and call. The main explanation we get is something along the lines of a sweet girl caving under the excess of Hollywood and the pressure of fame which could have been about anyone from Britney Spears to Lindsay Lohan. It’s shallow and doesn’t say anything that Monroe’s most casual fan didn’t already know.
On the plus side, the film is beautiful, as all period films are. It’s soft, warm, richly coloured and showcases some gorgeous costumes and make up. The film-inside-a-film structure allows for greater diversity in the costumes and setting adding to the amount of pretty.
The characters in My Week with Marilyn frequently marvel over Marilyn’s innate talent and natural gift. We marvel along with them but more in blind agreement than as a result of any real conviction.
Based on writer Alan Bennett’s 1989 memoir, the ‘mostly true’ story of one Margaret Shepherd - an eccentric homeless woman who back in the mid-70’s decided to set up camp in Bennett’s North London driveway and stay there for fifteen years - is beautifully told in Nicholas Hytner’s The Lady in the Van; a humorous and touching tale of an unusual friendship brought to life by an engaging script and one deliciously weird and quirky performance by the forever-great Dame Maggie Smith.
Adapted to the screen by Bennett himself – his story was initially turned into a book back in 1989 before taking up stage in London’s West End in 1999 - The Lady in the Van begins by introducing Alan Bennett (Jennings); a witty, dry and a seemingly withdrawn playwright who has just moved in to his new home in Camden, London. Thanks to camera trickery, there are two versions of the writer to be witnessed here; one is Bennett the man – a shy and a reserved fellow who deals with the outside world – and Bennett the writer; someone who sits, writes and complains about the lack of intrigue and excitement in their somewhat boring and complicated co-existence.
Things take an interesting turn with the appearance of Miss. Shepherd (Smith); a strange, smelly and a particularly single-minded drifter who lives out of the back of a van. After not being able to park her van out on the street anymore, Miss. Shepherd – whose unconventional characteristics have already ignited an interest in the writer – turns to Bennett for help. Taking pity on the poor old lady, he soon agrees for her to temporarily use his driveway which, as it turns out, she stayed on for fifteen years.
It’s easy to recognise The Lady in the Van’s theatrical roots with the movie bearing a somewhat of an artificial and at times, a distractingly stagey feel. However, that should not pose as a problem with the magnificent Maggie Smith at play, whose performance is so engaging that it’s easy to forgive the film’s tiny drawbacks. Reprising her acclaimed stage performance, Smith is absolutely superb as the wandering oldster whose mysterious past involving a hit-and-run – something that serves as the major subplot in the story – has led her to where she is today. Her interaction with Bennett – a pleasantly reliable Jennings - is where the story’s heart lies and it’s his never-ending curiosity about his particularly strange squatter that ends up slowly unravelling the mystery behind her suffering existence.
Staying clear of unnecessary melodrama and over-sentimentalising its subject, The Lady in the Van is all about Smith’s turn and, while its peculiar set up may not appeal to everyone’s taste, it’s hard to imagine anyone not being taken in by this 80 year old actress’ immense talent and her incredible ability of commanding the screen.