Life is not ALWAYS funny, and neither was this movie, but I have to believe it was not meant to be. The characters and setting are rich and believable (isn't this what movies and books are about-- suspension of disbelief, and being taken to another time and place?).
No, I didn't sit there and laugh the whole time, but I did feel deep emotion throughout the movie. Anger, indignation, pride, empathy, amazement (Lena Olin's character is quite a wildwoman), joy, curiosity, sadness, pity, regret, hope... and the list goes on.
No, darlings, it's not a Jim Carrey brainless comedy, and it's not a Minnie Driver brainy comedy, either. It is a drama that is funny occasionally because life is funny occasionally. (Sometimes you either laugh or you cry, you know. This movie is an excellent example of that.)
And if that weren't enough, well then, what about watching it for Gabriel Byrne? He is compelling as the Polish, chain-smoking, flour-dusted baker-- husband to the dashing and determined Lena Olin and father to the fresh and curious Claire Danes. Byrne's performance is reason enough to watch this film. For one thing, his accent is absolutely perfect. The viewer is not reminded that this is an Irishman, because he plays the Pole through and through.
Though Olin's character seems to be running the show, one look at Byrne sitting on the steps blowing smoke into the sky and flashing his dark-fringed moody blues is enough to make you feel this man knows what's going on. He's no dummy. But he accepts the imperfections in his life because, well, life isn't perfect. Unlike most of us, he is finding contentment in a world that would leave most wanting. There are no cellphones, cable TV, or credit cards, no designer clothing, nothing trendy at all in this movie, yet the world of the characters is complete, and in turn, the story is focused on the people and what is truly important in their lives. SO different from many movies these days.
This is simply the story of a Polish family in Detroit who are trying in their own way to be who they are (some of them still trying to find out who they are). After seeing the story unfold before me, I felt like I had a taken a glimpse behind closed doors. I'd say that makes the movie effective, wouldn't you?
I would happily watch this movie again and again.