Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on November 2011

© 2010 UNTITLED 09 LIMITED, UK FILM COUNCIL AND CHANNEL FOUR TELEVISION CORPORATION

While I generally prefer storytelling in movies to artsy atmosphere, I make an exception for director Mike Leigh’s finely observed character studies. They often have an uncanny way of making you recognize yourself in them, both the good and the bad bits. This wonderfully wise, multilayered film is about happiness, and addresses the almost impossible question of why some of us have it and others do not. A 60-ish couple, brilliantly played by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen, are clearly among the haves. They’re so maddeningly radiant with the elusive commodity that it seems to overflow to those around them. They are generous, nonjudgmental and patient—considering the wretched state of some of their friends. Like Mary, played with an admirable lack of self-consciousness by Leslie Manville. Mary is needy, self-deluded, smokes a lot, and is infrequently sober. She’s embarrassing. She has no idea why she is unhappy, and continually makes wrong choices. The film really belongs to Manville with this raw, heartbreakingly spot-on portrayal. Leigh also says a lot, without words, about the UK’s crumbling class system. Go see this movie. It’ll make you a better person.