What happens in an average year? A bit of this, a bit of that -- small and medium moments that construct -- or fray -- our lives. Mike Leigh's latest drama is a relatively small, low-key set piece in which such moments are marked during a year in the life of a comfortable -- in every sense -- sixtysomething London couple, Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Jerri (Ruth Sheen). In their orbit is their thirty-something son, Joe (Oliver Maltman); Jerri's frantically unhappy co-worker, Mary (Lesley Manville); and Tom's old mate from up north, the boozy Ken (Peter Wright).
The acting -- if you notice it at all -- is superb, effortless. Leigh frequently works with his actors to improvise scenes and dialogue, and his long takes let the viewer luxuriate -- or slightly squirm -- within the story.
Leigh seems to want to explore happiness, and its degrees and pursuits. Tom and Jerri seem content, but Mary and Ken are crashing, babbling messes of misery. But the film is never preachy, judgmental or -- thankfully -- larded with self-help bromides. The decisions we make do matter, of course. But while Tom and Jerri espouse an admirable sensibility, they have no great secret to impart. Sometimes a happy life is simply a matter of luck. Starts Fri., Feb. 4.