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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 twenty-something twin daughters (Claire Skinner and Jane Horrocks).

Review: It’s really interesting to look back at this – one of Mike Leigh’s earlier cinematic efforts – and see how over the years he was able to hone the familiar raw materials of this film to far more modulated, and, dare I say it, sophisticated 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 viewer in to the central truthfulness exposed by those traits and situations. Well, in Life is Sweet, those characterisations are much more hideously grotesque and conceited than in the 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 to the audience the sole idea or piece of subtext he seems to have brought to the film (namely, that beneath this family’s superficial veneer of reprised dialogue and repartee, they actually have a lot of suppressed issues).

The two things admirable about Leigh’s filmmaking creed 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 or on TV, and he’s never blithe enough to wrap his stories up in false epiphanies. That said, the Timothy Spall/restaurant subplot is an odious waste of time – supposed to highlight how the central family are so benign 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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