Life Is Sweet (1990)
9/10
Extra-ordinary
23 November 2000
I often fantasise about directing a movie (yes, I know I'm sad!), and I would like to think that my movies would come out like Mike Leigh's: affectionate without being sentimental, funny without crossing over into out-and-out comedy, realistic without being bleak or depressing.

This portrayal of an "ordinary" English family is everything a film ought to be. Great acting - Alison Steadman in particular - her character's relentless optimism and cheerfulness interspersed with knowing when a situation needs to be treated more seriously; Jim Broadbent as the day-dreaming father and Jane Horrocks as the anorexic Nicola. All the characters are beautifully drawn, including the minor characters (Timothy Spall as doomed chef Aubrey, Stephen Rea as dodgy-dealer Patsy, David Thewlis as Nicola's unnamed lover).

Some typical Leigh scenes include the excellently framed shot of the burger-van in the scrapyard (which could almost be a painting!), and the panning shot along the back of the row of houses (implying that similar dramas are unfolding in everyone's lives).

Not much actually happens, but that's part of the point - it takes in themes of happiness, hopes and dreams, friendship and family ties. Clearly a precursor to "Secrets And Lies", this is a simpler, purer film, but with the same message of ultimate optimism.
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