Writer/director Mike Leigh brings his usual cast of talented British actors to the table, for a year in the life of an older couple.
Leigh’s directing is superb in this. It’s the writing part that needed some work.
The couple, played by the ever versatile Jim Broadbent (the young readers know him as Professor Horace Slughorn in Harry Potter, I liked him as Gilbert in Topsy-Turvy); his wife is played by Ruth Sheen.
I don’t usually comment on how actors look, unless it distracts from the picture. The last time I recall doing that was Adrien Brody and his huge nose in King Kong. There were times it was a distraction.
With Sheen, there were times I wondered about her chin (or lack thereof). Once she talks you’re fine with her, but those moments of silence are painful.
The movie is stolen by Lesley Manville, playing an alcoholic woman who needs a trip to Man-ville. She tries picking up on every guy she sees, including the couples 30-year-old son. I hope we see an Oscar nomination for her, especially in a character that could’ve easily been a caricature. The script is written as to avoid those clichés.
The problem is, as realistic as this movie is, lots of it can be dull.
Would I want to be invited to a dinner party this couple threw? No. Would I love having this couple as an aunt and uncle – most certainly. They are smart, friendly people; but think about your uncle. If you filmed his life for a year, would there be enough to make a movie out of?
There are scenes where Sheen sees Manville flirting with her son, and gives her looks. I loved a lot of the subtle things going on, but at the half-way point I was wondering – why is this psychiatrist, who has been dealing with this for 20 years from her friend/co-worker — just now putting some distance between them? All those years she couldn’t say anything or do the tough love thing?
In the first scene in which we see Manville get drunk and complain about her lot in life, I loved how the couple handled it. They joke with her, agree with her, comfort her. Once we realize this is a pattern with her, we are just left to wonder why it would continue for so long.
During a funeral, when a relative of theirs has a son that is being disrespectful, they chime in immediately. We’re on the edge of our seat wondering how this situation will implode. Obviously, these characters can confront people when it’s necessary. For some reason I can’t figure out, Manville gets a pass.
I can’t say enough about how great her performance is. The way she flirts with the son, trying to fix her hair – and watching her get angry when the son brings a new girlfriend around.
Late in the movie, another character is brought in that is almost mute. I understand he’s grieving at the loss of his wife, but watching his scenes were just painful.
Another character that shows up – an old college chum of the couple – is a fat slob that eats and drinks so fast it’s disgusting. And watching him on a train, carrying chips and two cans of beer, you wonder why they went over the top with his character when all the others seem so realistic, making this often an interesting slice-of-life picture.
This movie is on many critics “best of the year” lists, which baffles me. I think it’s a rare misstep from Mike Leigh (Vera Drake).
I certainly wasn’t bored watching it, but I think a lot of people will be. It’s an underwhelming picture.
I’m giving it a C-.