I saw this today. I enjoyed it very much but I think after all the reviews I was expecting the best Mike Leigh ever. In my view it doesn’t top the classics – Secrets and Lies, Life is Sweet and Naked.
Compared to these films it has a very different subtle flavour. It lacks their dramatic arcs and the big emotional finish, but I don’t think that was really what it was going for, and the characters dictate a different type of story. That Mike Leigh is just as interested in following.
Tom and Geri are a married couple in their sixties, content and happy together. Over four seasons and four Sundays they are visited by various friends and relations all single and unhappy with their lot. They are kind and caring to everyone. On the surface they’re engaged but they’re also very protective of their own little world. Strong emotional boundaries help them keep the problems of others at arms length.
Tom ( Jim Broadbent) is an geologist prone to plain speaking outbursts and Geri ( Ruth Sheen) is a therapist with a platitude for every occasion. It’s her view of life in particular that I think informs the film. There is a strong similarity between how Geri deals with Imelda Staunton – her depressed client at the start of the film and how she deals with her depressed friends. Both actors give subtle understated performances.
The films other strong focus, is their friend Mary (Lesley Manville, playing the Mike Leigh neurotic, but with a humane touch) She has a crush on the couples son, and is avoiding the attentions of their alcoholic and equally dysfunctional friend Ken(Peter Wright).
The film explores ideas of maturity and pragmatism vs neurosis and projection, Interdependence vs codependence. Can friends help each others be happy or only themselves? How ruthless do you have to be to protect your own happiness? Does happiness come from being in a loving couple? Can singles be happy? – not in this story it seems!
Overall it’s is a film with lots of themes none of them shouted on the surface, more like currents underneath, subtle ideas that are intertwined with character rather than pasted on to the story.