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Happy together: (l-r) Broadbent and Sheen in Another Year.

A Small Circle of Friends

By Ann Morrow

Another Year

Directed by Mike Leigh

 

Another Year, another study in British social realism from Mike Leigh, is divided into four seasons. It can, however, be seen as the culmination of four decades: Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen) are a happily married couple in late middle age. Tom is a geologist, Gerri is a therapist, and they are both devoted gardeners (think of it as the aged bookend to Leigh’s Naked). They also like to entertain; their first dinner guest is Mary (Lesley Manville), a secretary in Gerri’s office. Lonely and insecure, Mary exudes a cloud of desperation that gathers as she drinks, and she drinks a lot. Another longtime friend, Ken (Peter Wight), visits soon after. He drinks even more, and eats too much, and bemoans being too old for pub crawling (“They’re not pubs now, they’re all poncey bars”). A few months later, he drowns in self-pity at a backyard dinner party, where he is rejected by Mary, who deludes herself that she has a secret romantic attachment with Joe (Oliver Maltman), Tom’s and Gerri’s still-single, 30-year-old son.

The sodden decline of the couple’s friends and family members is gradually revealed, conversation by excruciating conversation. Even Leigh admirers may find the film’s utterly mundane realism to be a tough slog, despite flawless acting from the cast of Leigh regulars (most of them from Vera Drake, with a comically taciturn appearance from David Bradley as Tom’s brother). There’s a lively get-together when Joe finally gets a girlfriend (Karina Fernandez) and brings her home for a surprise visit, but mostly, the camera bores into Mary’s disintegration and Gerri’s good fortune at having a good marriage.

And so it’s really Mary’s story, because Mary made a bad marriage, and then wasted another decade on a married man, and now, as she reluctantly notices, she’s aged out of the market. Manville gets every drunken mood swing, from frazzled to sentimental to maudlin, just right, but it’s an all-too-common scenario that Leigh’s relentless objectivity does little to penetrate.

 

Uh-oh: (l-r) Kelly and Meester in The Roommate.

Girl, Crazy

The Roommate

Directed by Christian E. Christensen

Hardly ever do I go to a scary, let alone a horror, movie, so it was with major trepidation that I set off for a lunchtime viewing of The Roommate. Good for me, then, when I realized, about 30 seconds into the first reel, that the horror in this movie is more of a literary nature. In other words, my 5-year-old could have come up with a more compelling, chilling storyline than this—although admittedly, his version most likely would have foregone the lesbian and shower scenes that are supposed to be oh-so-titillating.

Rebecca (Leighton Meester) is a student at Los Angeles University, and she’s really into Richard Prince’s bleeding “Nurse” paintings, almost as much as she’s really into her new roommate, Sara (Minka Kelly), who is straight out of the Iowa cornfields. The Roommate is the kind of movie where you can see several hundred miles away that the kitten, the boyfriend, the ex-boyfriend, and pretty much anybody or anything who says boo (or meow) to Sara is going to meet a grisly end, courtesy of Rebecca. Sara, typically, is too dumb to notice. She should be able to put the bloody, jagged pieces together and get herself, pronto, to the dean or the campus police, but that would mean the end of a pretty bad movie, right?

In the early 1990s there was a much better thriller, Single White Female, with sort of the same premise, and The Roommate makes me wonder how far we’ve fallen into the shallows of humanity and intelligence. At least the earlier movie acknowledged our latent fears and expectations, while playing with our sense of proportion. It also, unlike The Roommate, featured good performances; although Cam Gigandet (who was so cute wearing mascara in Burlesque) tries amiably to tread through these turgid waters. The Roommate is geared toward a generation weaned on bloody video games and too blasé to care about so many body parts strewn about the dorm rooms of Los Angeles U. Meester, of Gossip Girl, and Kelly, who starred on Friday Night Lights, both deserve much better than this kitty litter.

—Laura Leon


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