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Life is Sweet

July 9, 2013

Life is Sweet (1990)
Director: Mike Leigh
Actors: Alison Steadman, Jim Broadbent, Claire Skinner

Life is Sweet

Synopsis: A few weeks played out in the humble lives of a working-class London couple (Alison Steadman and Jim Broadbent) and their stay-at-home twentysomething twin daughters (Claire Skinner and Jane Horrocks).

Review: It’s really interesting to look back at this – one of Mike Leigh’s earlier efforts – and see how, over the years, he was able to hone the familiar raw materials of this film to far more modulated pieces of work in recent times.

Leigh’s theatrical, performance-based idiom is now highly familiar, and how, staying steadfast to what initially jar as mannered characterisations, over time draws the audience into the inherent truths revealed by those traits and scenarios. In Life is Sweet though, the eccentricities of characterisation are far more conceited than in later Leigh works. In a sense, by allowing the performances to be that much more demonstrative, it betrays Leigh’s own, central desire to hammer home the sole conceit or piece of subtext he wants to bring to Life if Sweet: namely, that beneath this family’s superficial veneer of routined dialogue and repartee, there are a lot of suppressed issues.

The two things admirable about Leigh’s filmmaking credo that are present in this movie are how he taps into a certain type of spoken, Estuary English that is rarely heard in the cinema, and he’s never blithe enough to wrap up his story in false epiphanies. That said, the Timothy Spall character subplot feels bogus. It’s supposed to highlight how the central family are so benign and passive that they could actually endure a friendship with such an unstable person, but there’s far too much needless, sadistic character exposition. Also, did Leigh really need to score almost the whole film to a jaunty Rachel Portman soundtrack, just in case we didn’t get the already obvious conceit of how affable and ‘happy’ the central family actually are? (July 2013)

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