- Actors: Alison Steadman, Jim Broadbent, Claire Skinner, Jane Horrocks, Stephen Rea
- Directors: Mike Leigh
- Writers: Mike Leigh
- Producers: Simon Channing Williams
- Format: PAL
- Region: Region 2 (This DVD may not be viewable outside Europe. Read more about DVD formats.)
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9 - 1.66:1
- Number of discs: 1
- Studio: Cinema Club
- DVD Release Date: 11 Feb. 2002
- Run Time: 99 minutes
- Average Customer Review: 86 customer reviews
- ASIN: B00004S8IB
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 22,951 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)
Life Is Sweet
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Mike Leigh directs this British comedy set in a lower-middle class household in a London suburb. Parents Wendy (Alison Steadman) and Andy (Jim Broadbent) and their twin daughters Natalie (Claire Skinner) and Nicola (Jane Horrocks) are a modern family at odds with itself. Whilst Natalie quietly focuses on progressing into the plumbing industry, bulimic Nicola grows increasingly sullen and misanthropic.
Life is Sweet, Mike Leigh's 1990 snapshot of the suburban family condition at the tail end of the Thatcher era, is often depressing and occasionally harrowing. It is also ultimately joyous, not just for the sharpness of Leigh's satire--the script was improvised with and by the cast--but also for the real affection that binds the family together. Through a series of minor crises, channels of communication silted up by the daily grind and terminal self-absorption are gradually eased open and the film ends on a note of genuine hope.
As parents Wendy and Andy, Alison Steadman and Jim Broadbent give virtuoso performances: two adults who use fantasy, mundane work and a stream of banal chatter to keep reality at bay before a freak kitchen accident forces them to stop and take stock. They have two daughters to perplex them: one a plumber (Claire Skinner) and the other an angry anorexic (Jane Horrocks, unsparing in a gut-wrenching bulimic scene). Timothy Spall is hilarious as family friend Aubrey, a would-be restaurateur whose efforts to establish a gourmet eatery in Enfield collapse in hopeless, drunken farce. This is not an overtly political film, but the sense of a stake being driven through the heart of the 1980s enterprise culture is unmistakeable. Inspiring. --Piers FordSee all Product description
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Because the film is quite old it's a joy to see the actors in their youth - Jim Broadbent with black hair and beard and the boyfriend of the anorexic twin - David Thewlis - the complete opposite to our usual perception of him as kind, caring Professor Lupin in the Harry Potter films. Timothy Spall makes an appearance as the deluded restaurant owner who forgets to print the menus or advertise his new business then goes drunkenly berserk when no one comes on the first night! A riot of laughs with undertones of sadness and an early observation of the condition of anorexia and how it affects the normality of family life.
Edit 16 February 2013: Now Criterion are putting this out with a commentary from Mike Leigh. That one will be the edition to get.
The film explores each of the characters, we get an idea of the way they think and it's easy to relate to them. The scope of the film is concentrated on a few lives and from their "everyday" activities Mike Leigh distils pure drama. On the whole the characters are believable, though Aubrey seems a bit of a caricature - but even then Timothy Spall gives a solid performance which convinces us that we all probably know someone like him. Spall's character is a jumpy, self-deluded guy who lacks social skills and looks like he's on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He provides an element of comic relief while also reminding us that that there's often a sadder side to those who seem happy with their lot.
Jim Broadbent is perfectly cast as dad Andy, the sort of guy who tinkers in his shed when he comes home from work and dreams about becoming his own boss - a dream he tries to realise when he buys a dilapidated old burger van! Underneath the more obvious aspects of family thief there's a darker series of events involving daughter Nicola. Her mother is rightfully concerned as Nicola has an eating disorder - Life Is Sweet lets us into the bedroom of Nicola and we are able to see her secret torment as she binges on a secret stash of sweets before making herself sick. Food is evidently something she considers forbidden, the full extent of which is revealed when we observe her secret sexual relationship with a lad who visits regularly.
Interestingly enough the usual stereotype of males using females for sex is reversed here and it's he who wants something more substantial, anything, even a bit of conversation. The unnamed lover is David Thewlis, he's one of my favourite actors and although he has only a minor role in the film he makes an impression - in Mike Leigh's next film he would blow away the audience with one of the best performances I've ever seen.
Life Is Sweet looks real enough to believe what's happening but it doesn't have the almost 'fly-on-the-wall' element or the caustic grittiness that you often get with a Mike Leigh film - it's fairly upbeat despite some of the more pensive moment. It's the characters who drive the film and you watch because you want to see what happens to them, especially in the case of bulimic Nicola. She seems to shun everyone but there's a great scene in the end where she opens up to her sister and it gives the film a natural end point.
In a nutshell: Life is sweet is a neat self contained package which shows us a family over the course of a week or so. Similarities between the characters on screen and those in our own families are felt as strongly as the differences. It's also a reminder that we don't always know the complete goings-on in our own homes. The film does flow through events well and comes to a conclusion, and afterwards your left thinking about what the future hold for them - will Andy ever get his battered old burger van in working order?
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