Sally Hawkins' Poppy in Happy-Go-Lucky was Mike Leigh wearing swimming togs in a blast of hot June sunshine. As an antidote, or a joke perhaps, he teases us at the start of Another Year with a close-up of Imelda Staunton in anguished-washerwoman mode, with a face you could only call the 2nd of January. Staunton's Janet has been forced by her doctor to attend a counsellor. On a scale of one to 10, she is asked, how would you say you feel? Staunton's face is colder than a tombstone. One, she says. Where's Poppy when you need her? I imagine her bounding into the room – it's not easy being you, is it Janet, eh? C'mere, gimme a hug! – only to get a dig in the face.
Another Year, though, is neither summer nor winter but the even keel of four seasons. It is fashioned around a husband and wife – Tom and Gerri – who, no cartoon catastrophe, are, instead, the film's centre of gravity. Gerri (Ruth Sheen) is the counsellor treating Janet. She sports no jaw to speak of but has backbone and heart aplenty. And then there's Tom (Jim Broadbent), an engineer of quiet purpose and frazzled eyes. They are that married couple that seem to be together forever; that grow tighter with the years. They tend an allotment at the weekend and cook big comforting meals with the produce. But the film's concern is how they comfort their family and friends.
The curve of the story follows the seasonal visits of Mary (Lesley Manville), a middle-aged secretary at the surgery where Gerri works. She's a permanent singleton always on alert for a man. She's a helpless flirt, too, and twiddles her hair when testosterone's in the air. "Look at his muscles," she says of Gerri's bumbling, thirtysomething son Joe. "I'm a bit overdressed for a Sunday... what do you think?" she says, thrusting her cleavage.
Mary is an awful witterer and sinks glass after glass of chardonnay. But underneath the talk, you start to hear the awful silence in her life. When the man she is making eyes at in a pub is met by his much younger girlfriend, the camera sits on Mary's face and we see in her eyes her despair at becoming invisible. There was a similar moment in Leigh's Naked, where a middle-aged woman trussed up her hair in sexual desperation in front of the young Johnny. Here, Leigh has Mary pinned without making her move at all and we spend the rest of the film watching her wriggle.
Tom has two brothers who come to visit too. There's helpless Ken (Peter Wright), all spilling weight and tins of beer and crisps. And like Mary he's sad and alone and doesn't know how to cook. And then there's the older brother Ronnie (David Bradley), whose wife they travel north to bury. It is perhaps the best moment in the film: Ronnie's son turns up, a shaven-headed bully who spits and spurns those around him and makes a mockery of his mother's wake. Family, indeed, is a messy business.
Beneath the drama, there's something gnawing away. Leigh evokes a sense of society pulling apart. The film is less an advertisement for marriage, as seen through Tom and Gerri, than an alert about those who end up living their lives alone. Families break up and scatter, leaving isolation and loneliness. And so, in their quiet way, Tom and Gerri are vital.
Mary turns from amusingly drunk into an unamusing lush. She babbles on hilariously about getting a car to whizz her away for happiness at weekends. But when she does so, she's a hazard, while the car proves nothing but trouble. By autumn she has become a sad obligation. Manville is terrific, but there are times you can hear the strain of her character being pushed too hard. She's one of those Leigh chatterboxes that drive you nuts but are compelling to watch because of how Leigh allows them to reveal, through small talk, what lies beneath.
This is accentuated by the way he watches them. When the talk runs out he lingers on their faces. Manville flashes despair like jabs of pain. And then there's Ronnie, with one of those great, sad loping faces that sits so still it could be a Depression-era photograph by Dorothea Lange. The camera drinks him in.
Leigh is so good at building consummate characters you come away from this wondering that they're not real. His empathy here is staggering; his gift is to make us better watchers and listeners of people and, for that, this is a blessing.
Imagine if shortly after Kubrick made The Shining, the French came along and remade the film, measure for measure, because nobody could be bothered to watch it in English with subtitles. This is the sad, bizarre situation we face in Let Me In, a Hollywood remake of Thomas Alfredson's Swedish horror masterpiece, Let The Right One In. That Hollywood has always remade horror films is nothing new. But Alfredson's forlorn coming-of-age vampire film ranged so uniquely outside genre it would have been best left alone.
This is obvious watching Let Me In. It is so carefully modelled off the original – in pacing, tone, sensitivity and beauty – that the director Matt (Cloverfield) Reeves cannot step out of the film's shadow. From the opening, however, all neon flash in snow drift in New Mexico in the early '80s, it is clear he is in charge. Where the original builds a slow pace full of nuanced excitement, Reeves keeps the pace the same – a salve to the attention-deficit disorder of most Hollywood horrors – but he doesn't risk opening the film to US audiences without a blast of excitement.
He tells the tale with visual panache, a little nod to Rear Window and some minor changes, and though there is less plot, the story remains the same. It tells of the unlikely friendship between Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee of The Road) and Abby, the creepy girl next door (Chloe Moretz of Kick-Ass). Owen's dangerous fascinations are toned down though he is still bullied at school. Abby is, unknown to Owen, an ageless vampire whose supposed father (Richard Jenkins) must go out and get her blood to increasing danger and cost.
Where the ambiguity of evil in the original was more acute because morality was kept largely within the central child's point of view, here we get background hints and references about god, and there is a policeman (Elias Koteas) on the case, too, which makes you wonder if America can ever get around its obsession with the blinkers of good and evil. Viewed in complete isolation, this is a very accomplished film – though much in the same way a reproduction of a master painting looks pretty good to the uninitiated.
I'm sure Todd Phillips would like to reproduce the success of his previous comedy The Hangover. His lustre has earned him the right now to work with Robert Downey Jr. And in Due Date – a road comedy with little mileage – he reunites with Jake Galifianakis, that shaggy-bearded, pratfall-loving schlub who causes nothing but trouble.
Downey Jr's Peter is an anal architect who is flying home to LA for the birth of his first child. Galifianakis' Ethan Tremblay is a fey, pot-smoking, wannabe actor who keeps a dog in a bag and makes Peter's life hell. It's the clichéd odd couple: uptight pain-in-the-ass and easy-going mess. Phillips revels in misfortune and awkward contrivance. He has them kicked off their flight and forces them to drive across America together. Ethan masturbates in the car, drives them off a bridge and stands by while Peter is beaten up by a wheelchair-bound Iraq vet. The humour is mean-spirited but does produce a few titters. Downey Jr is so good an actor you hardly notice he's slumming it. Without the presence of both stars, however, there's little humming under the hood.
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