Happily married husband and wife attend to the emotional problems of their various friends, colleagues, and family over the course of a year. Director Mike Leigh’s movies are a mixed bag. They’re big on characterization and small on plot. On the one hand you get a beautifully composed, character driven drama filled with nuanced personalities. What you wont get is a focused narrative, other than to present a group of interesting people. Of all the individuals, the most engaging is Mary played by actress Lesley Manville. A superficially bubbly, but lonely woman in her early 50s. She talks with nervous speech patterns and jerky physical movements that belie a desperate need to be loved and a not so carefully hidden sadness. She’s extraordinary and her performance is one of the best things about the film. Unfortunately, the action really doesn’t go anywhere and leaves the viewer hanging at the end on a cheerless note. Of course the argument is, such is life, but that feels like a cheat since this is not the real world, but a movie. It feels lazy as if Mike Leigh didn’t know where to take the story. After watching such a well acted movie with heartfelt characters, we expect a dramatic structure. Throughout most of the picture, however, the experience can be quite rewarding.