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...are the small ones.
Mike Leigh worked with his relatively small cast (five main cast members and about four supporting cast members), improvising characters, devising scenarios and plots, and came up with this; one of his earliest masterpieces.
The plot is simple enough. A couple of days in the life of a working class London family. There isn't really a plot as such. A couple of fairly deep issues are dealt with, such as eating disorders and depression, but other than a few moments, all we are doing is watching a family live their life: a strong hard-working mother (Alison Steadman); a weaker easily-led by his mates father (Jim Broadbent); and their twin daughters: Natalie (Claire Skinner) - resourceful and kind-hearted but with a strange tendency to wear men's shirts and down pints - and Nicola (Jane Horrocks) - screwed up, rude, irrational and painfully insecure in both her looks and her intelligence.
The performances brought out by this form of filmmaking are superb - as they are in all of Leigh's movies (Secrets & Lies, Career Girls and All Or Nothing are all worthy of viewing, but especially Secrets & Lies). However, Alison Steadman is the standout (perhaps for no other reason than she has the most screen time), the driving force that brings all the family together. The scene in which she finally cracks and loses that nervous laugh to tell Nicola a few home truths and break down the barriers that Nicola has put up between herself and the rest of the world, is so beautifully written and terrifically performed that it is a shame that Steadman in particular was not Oscar-nominated.
Only one or two criticisms struck me. One was a slight lack of development of the other daughter. What exactly DOES make her tick? Am I merely stereotyping by assuming she is supposed to be a lesbian? Or is she just happy being so masculine in her dress-sense and mannerisms - (she isn't even offended by a client who calls her a 'good lad')? We never find out, because the film focuses a little more on her sister. It certainly appears that her mother suspects her daughter of being gay, but for some reason the subject is never brought up.
Similarly, a couple of loose ends are never tied up. The caravan and the restaurant in particular. But I guess we have the prerogative to make our own endings up haven't we, so that's a good thing in many ways.
I think at the end of the day, people will either like all of Mike Leigh's films or none of them. And I'm in the former group. His work is beautiful and always touching.
I'm starting to think that Mike Leigh could make a story about
boring people (like me) posting reviews online and make it and
them interesting. I don't think I'm being overly sentimental when I
say that, sometimes we need films that show us that, on the
whole, people are good and trying to do the best they can in a
difficult world. I don't see many directors who are willing to show
us flawed characters who fight through difficulties with heart and
humor and work things out without the aid of some ridiculous
device. Leigh is brave enough, creative enough and has enough
respect for his audience to show us, in Life is Sweet, that
sometimes caring and patience with those we love is our only
chance and what we are generally stuck with anyway.
Another reviewer has commented that this could be a fly-on-the-wall documentary rather than fiction. That hits the nail right on the head. I live some 5 miles from Enfield (where Life is Sweet was filmed) and this is completely true to life. No car chases, no martial artists, no expensive explosions, just life going on and (in the main) being fairly sweet. Everybody knows a Patsy who has a "little deal", everybody knows families like this one, everybody knows an Aubrey who never *quite* makes it. Mike Leigh knows what he's talking about, and it's enough to make a highly enjoyable movie that's worth seeing many times. I don't fancy Aubrey's "Saveloy on a bed of Lychees", though!
What can I say that previous fans of this movie have not said yet? I
that Mike Leigh is the best filmmaker working today. So, I won't bother
rehashing the story line.
I am convinced even thinking back to 1991, when it was released in the US, that Life is Sweet was the best of that year. That year was remembered more for, among others, Schindler's List, The Remains of the Day and The Piano.
Alison Steadman seemingly insensitive lighthearted outlook on the world -laughing after nearly every sentence she or others utter, which incredibly I never tired of (an amazing feat), is all just her way of dealing with life. She sees it for what it is. The scene where she explains to her daughter Nicola how much of a sacrifice that she and her husband have made for the sake of their family is one of the most touching I have seen between a mother and daughter. I felt as though I was eaves-dropping while watching it. What a pleasure!
A superb example of Mike Leigh's directing method - working with his
many of them regulars, making up most of the script as they go
No falling empires or coveted magical rings here, just the small victories and tiny despairs of everyday life - Timothy Spall's ridiculous restaurant ("Liver in Lager"??), Jane Horrocks' eating disorder and general estrangement from the world, Jim Broadbent and his grimy little burger van, Clair Skinner's endearingly sensible tomboy plumber... all exquisite little portraits. Best of all is Alison Steadman as the suburban Earth-mother trying to hold it all together.
It shows, above all, that a great film can be about anything really, as long as the direction, acting and script is of this calibre. Ben Hur, it ain't!
Absolutely marvelous - 9/10.
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.
This unpredictable and hard-hitting film follows the lives of the
fascinating characters who make up a lower-middle-class family. A
character-based story, there really isn't a plot, as there isn't a plot in
our everyday lives, but it is all the more interesting for that.
The parents are amicable beings: the mother Wendy a chirpy, motherly character (very well-acted), the father incredibly laid-back, yet hard-working at a job he hates. Their two daughters are like chalk and cheese: Natalie, a plumber, is quiet and practical (I thought she was a boy at first: hers is a curiously unsexed character) while Nicola is a complete mess.
The ugliness of true life is shown beside its mundane beauty. The shocking scenes of Nicola's self-torture (she is a secret bulimic) are juxtaposed with scenes of the mother dusting, and the ordinary cheerfulness of the rest of the family. A bizarre family friend, Aubrey, and his dream of running his own restaurant provide a subplot of sorts, but the domestic drama is far more interesting.
Horricks gives a startling good performance as the disturbed Nicola: she drips with self-loathing, but inspires pity. The most poignant scene is one in which her boyfriend, no Einstein himself, becomes fed up with her intense sexual demands, and asks her to prove her intelligence by having a real conversation with him. Nicola, whom we know is intelligent, cannot bring herself to do this: she is compelled to always show herself in the worst light. She can only mutter 'I AM intelligent' in a voice of despair. The boyfriend departs, leaving her in a state of even more intense self-hatred and depression. It is hard-hitting scenes like this one which stick in the memory.
The mother, Wendy, who appears a scatterbrain at first, emerges as a dignified, wise and compassionate woman, as she responds in a touching scene to her troubled daughter Nicola.
It's such a plain-looking film, yet it is striking because of the intensity of its characters, and the honesty of director Mike Leigh's observations. Although life is hard for the family, it is also sweet. That, I think, is Leigh's message.
Just one of those films that is subjectively sublime. Honestly
portrayed people just doing stuff and some of it going wrong and some
of it going OK. Not sneering but celebrating a certain way of life, and
so becoming a celebration of all our lives - maybe this borders into
Funny and joyful - with what could pass as tragedy, but still funny. Plenty of the inter-personal stuff that is so often missed in pursuit of consensus cinema. The actors just appear like people that are just there - not acting but just doing things.
Reminded me of crying with laughter after getting caught putting dog-dirt (maybe not familiar with that term?) in my Grandad's petrol tank on the estate - kind of thing - like I say - subjective.
this is another one of those movies that i loved so much the first time
i saw it, i cried in the theater, went home, came back the next day
with a friend in tow.
unlike the other movies i did this with (raising Arizona, after hours), the person i saw it with actually got the movie the first time, and loved it as much as i did. yes, naked and Topsy turvy got all the praise, but this is my favorite Leigh movie. it is just so...sweet.
i would talk about this movie years after seeing it saying that it was so heartbreakingly real, if you cut the screen, it would bleed. the was something so compelling about everyone in this movie. someone said they were pathetic, but i couldn't say i saw it like that. they were just flawed people doing the best they could. to me that is so beautiful. for years i would wish that America had a real working class director like mike Leigh. someone who showed people struggling. we need it so very badly, as the aftermath of Katrina can attest to. we forget our poor over here.
the funniest thing was i wold watch this movie when i got depressed, and it made me feel less alone. it cheered me up.
A sublime slice of ordinary life from Mike Leigh. He takes us through 5
in the life of a London family: Jim Broadbent, Alison Steadman and their
twin daughters Claire Skinner and Jane Horrox. What follows is by turns
touching, hilarious and unsettling. Leigh is often compared to Ken Loach,
but Loach deals with unspeakably grim and often melodramatic scenarios.
far more impressive gift of Leigh is to make tales from the apparently
unremarkable. So many touches run true here; Steadman doing a little dance
to herself alone in the kitchen, Broadbent and Stephen Rea drunkenly
reciting the Spurs Double side, Skinner describing an arthritic old woman
met on her plumbing round. And the tragedy of the film is also unveiled
naturally and feels horribly believable.
The performances are also astonishing. Broadbent and Steadman, both distinctive actors, can descend into parody but here are just hugely enjoyable. Skinner is nicely deadpan but the star is Horrox, playing a twitching wreck of a girl who mainly communicates in one word insults. Little wonder she's been given so many chances to prove her talents subsequently, just a shame she's never taken them. The only false note is Tim Spall as a manic chef. Perhaps that's because he's simply put in for comic value (he was far better in Leigh's 'Secrets and Lies'), his character given none of the depth which lights up the rest of the film.
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