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Living (A Movie Review)

LIVING (2022)

Starring Bill Nighy, Aimee Lou Wood, Alex Sharp, Tom Burke, Adrian Rawlins, Hubert Burton, Oliver Chris, Michael Cochrane, Anant Varman, Zoe Boyle, Lia Williams, Jessica Flood, Patsy Ferran, Barney Fishwick, Nichola McAuliffe, Jamie Wilkes, Richard Cunningham, John MacKay, Ffion Jolly, Celeste Dodwell, Jonathan Keeble, Eunice Roberts and Mark James.

Screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Directed by Oliver Hermanus.

Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics. 102 minutes. Rated PG-13.

“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.” Allen Saunders

Other plans are all that Mr. Williams (no first name necessary), a London bureaucrat in the 1950s, has in this beautiful, sweet British film, surely one of the best movies to be released this year.

An adaptation of the 1952 movie Ikiru by Akira Kurosawa, Living takes a subtle and nuanced look at life and shows that even quiet, modest lives have special meaning, and sometimes the scale of the accomplishments is less important than just making a little bit of difference.

The role of Mr. Williams is perhaps a career-best performance by the always reliably terrific British actor Bill Nighy, who stuns in this performance as a completely repressed government worker – a slave to routines and rules, who has essentially been doing the same exact things every day for decades – who comes to learn that he is dying.

Suddenly realizing that his life has greatly been wasted, he tries to see what he has been missing out on for all of these years.

However, unlike less thoughtful films, this does not lead to a wholesale overhaul of the man’s entire personality. Sure, he toys with some of those things – going on an alcoholic bender, playing hooky from work, spending a lot of time with a much younger female former coworker.

Still, Living recognizes that he is still the same man, and it makes his little triumphs and changes much subtler. He shows his changes much more delicately; a sly whimsical smile, the obvious curiosity of a man who has denied himself for years, the ability to just relax and try to enjoy life as it goes on around him.

And wonderfully, his epiphany – just like the man himself – comes in a much humbler pursuit. Mr. Williams knows he can’t change the world, but he can use his knowledge and skills to do little things to make things better and help those around him. Therefore he throws himself into a modest pursuit that he knows that he can play a part in achieving – creating a playground for the kids in a downtrodden nearby neighborhood.

Living is a quiet, insightful film in which not a whole lot happens – but what does happen speaks volumes. Life isn’t always about grand gestures, sometimes it is more important to luxuriate in simple pleasures. It’s a nice thing to be reminded in a cinematic world where blockbusters try to make everything faster, brighter and shinier.

I can tell you this: Living has stuck with me a lot more strongly than many of the holiday blockbusters that have been trying to capture a sensation-starved audience’s attention.

Mr. Williams is more like a character from the Beatles song “Eleanor Rigby” – “All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?”

Not every story has to be grand. Some stories are far more interesting simply because they are not.

There is a lot more of Mr. Williams in most people than there is in – say, the characters from things like Babylon or Avatar II or Violent Night or Wakanda Forever – just to mention a few films that are released at the same time and will likely swamp this little film’s box office take. Which is not even to say that those films aren’t worthy of your attention (some are, and some aren’t…).

However, Living is absolutely worthy of your attention, so even though it may be a little more difficult to track down than those films, treat yourself and go and find it.

And don’t be surprised if Nighy gets a deserved Oscar nomination for his performance. He may not win – in fact, he probably won’t just because it is much more low-key than other choices – but that’s okay, at least he has done his best. Mr. Williams would appreciate the effort.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2022 All rights reserved. Posted: December 21, 2022.

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