British director Mike Leigh ("Secrets and Lies") has a way of making films that are quite about nothing, yet speak volumes about the human condition.
His latest film, "Another Year," has no plot, no action. It's just got ordinary people leading lives of quiet desperation or contentment. While I admire the actors' skill and the emotional intimacy Leigh shares with his characters, it's one of those films that is just – there.
It revolves around a handful of working-class people on the outskirts of London. Tom and Gerri (wonderfully played by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) have a rock-solid marriage and gentle, comfortable disposition. They are calming influences for friends and family, most notably Mary (Lesley Manville) who is desperately insecure and lonely. Tom's boyhood friend Ken (Peter Wight), as the only man who is attracted to Mary, also buries his misery in cigarettes and alarming quantities of booze.
Manville shows extreme lack of vanity in less than flattering, extreme closeups that lay bare her anguish. Her performance is almost too painful to bear.
If you are having any kind of winter doldrums, avoid "Another Year," especially if it's on a double bill with "Rabbit Hole." It's enough to make even the happiest person depressed.
Flock away from this one
Rarely have so many great actors produced a movie that so few people will care about. "Little Fockers" is the third installment of the film series that began with the amusing "Meet the Parents." The franchise then went downhill with the childish humor of "Meet the Fockers."
But the latest effort only magnifies previous mistakes to create one of the most contrived comedies of the year. Dustin Hoffman, Laura Dern, Barbara Streisand and Blythe Danner have only a few minutes of screen time amounting to cameo roles. The real blame for the mediocre enterprise rests squarely on the major players: Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro.
They play cat and mouse trying to uncover whether Ben's character is really cheating on his wife. Owen Wilson lends his usual juvenile presence to the lame enterprise. Everything is very predictable as the parade of silly situations and mistaken assumptions unfold. Together it all covers familiar territory where nothing original or really funny will ever happen.
SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a financial services company.
JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator.