Life Is Sweet (1990)
A moving drama, overlooked and yet a good introduction to Mike Leigh's filmography
25 August 2018
By now, Mike Leigh has become a household name of British cinema, but back when he created "Life Is Sweet", one of his earlier efforts in portraying suburban, middle-class families struggling with their everyday life, he was still mostly a stranger to foreign audiences, and it's actually sad that this film has been overlooked as a rather typical drama. Obviously, the film is not memorable enough to receive a similar reputation as other Leigh movies such as "Naked" or "Secrets & Lies", but thanks to the interesting acting as well as Mike Leigh's restrained, thoughtful and inspired directing, "Life Is Sweet" still appears as a pleasant surprise.

The dysfunctional family which is portrayed at the heart and center of this little film is portrayed by Alison Steadman (who gives a really good performance almost reminiscent of the fabulous Brenda Blethyn in "Secrets & Lies"), Jim Broadbent (who hadn't become an established supporting figure of cinema at that point except for minor roles in "Brazil" and "Superman IV"), Claire Skinner and Jane Horrocks (the latter of both a truly stunning surprise with her fascinating acting). The cast also includes Stephen Rea, Timothy Spall and David Thewlis. The outcome of this collection of talented performers is a very moving drama, a glimpse into the life of a number of characters whose lives most of us would like to observe, but wouldn't like to live ourselves. (At least I wouldn't, to be perfectly honest.)

This film most likely will not change the lives of those who watch it, especially not today, almost thirty years after it was filmed and released, but it is a great little gem from a filmmaker who can easily be counted among the best directors working today. Leigh's films have always been character-driven, and that has always been their greatest strength; they work for the viewer as long as they are prepared to engage themselves with the protagonists of the film, as long as they are not turned off by the sheer alienation they might feel while watching these everyday situations. Most of the negative comments for this film were written by people who felt bored by the movie and didn't see any reason to watch people whose lives don't appear to have a significant purpose, but they failed to understand that this is exactly the point of the film. Ultimately, you should watch it if you enjoy witnessing brilliant acting or if you just want to experience a peculiar little look into the lives of a strange little family. It's a bizarre film and quite difficult to access because it's rather hard to relate to the main characters, but it's also a beautiful little gem and worth the time spent with it.
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