together: (l-r) Broadbent and Sheen in Another Year.
Small Circle of Friends
by Mike Leigh
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,
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.
(l-r) Kelly and Meester in The Roommate.
by Christian E. Christensen
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.