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Wendy (Alison Steadman) and Andy (Jim Broadbent) live with their twenty
something twins Natalie (Claire Skinner) and Nicola (Jane Horrocks).
Natalie is boyish and working to be a plumber. Nicola is a cynical
rebel without a cause. Nicola secretly suffers from anorexia. Natalie
hears it but nobody talks about it. Patsy (Stephen Rea) sells Andy a
rundown food vendor trailer. Andy is a chef in an industrial catering
service and wants to cook for himself. Friend Aubrey (Timothy Spall)
opens his restaurant "The Regret Rien" and Wendy helps him with
waitressing. Nicola's disturbed relationship with food extends to sex
with her lover (David Thewlis).
Mike Leigh delivers his brand of British lower class movies. It's always very human. These characters are fun. I would like Andy to do more with the food trailer. Nicola is the most compelling character. Horrocks and Steadman have an amazing scene together. There are funny scenes. The family's combative style is energetic and fun. Their love really comes through.
UK films are not easily available on this side of the pond, so this
reviewer was first exposed to Jane Horrocks in this wonderfully perfect
little film, only to later catch her in Little Voice.
To say she was brilliant in both films is an understatement. The odd thing is that the second film seems to be well-known worldwide but this one seems to have been lost in the shuffle.
The genius here is taking a small but rock-solid cast and capturing the attention of the audience almost from the first scene, with the daily trials and tribulations of a family trying to survive the vicissitudes of the outside world and the internal prison of their own making.
The entire cast is great, the writing sharp, the direction polished. But the performance from Horrocks -- and that voice! -- will haunt you forever.
Life is Sweet was the first Leigh film I saw, about 6 years ago. To
mark his new film, out this week in cinemas I bought the DVD of this
I settled to reacquaint myself with Leigh's regular team of character actors. I've seen all his films subsequently and have a feel of his breadth of work, from tragicomedy to drama. As such, I found the characters' mannerisms and foibles to be grating and really quite irritating, as if they'd been overacted, or misjudged.
At first. But, as with any family that open their front door to you and until you see and hear how they click and survive as a family unit, you really do wonder what you've let yourself in for.
So, having 'moved in', within 15 minutes I was warming to them. Ten more and I felt I knew them and was totally immersed in their humour and lives. I'm still surprised as to how political and social statements from the late '80's (as well as a trip down memory lane; rusty Ford Escorts and shell suits) manifest themselves through the cast. Bit like the kitchen sink dramas of the '60's but without the grainy black & white, the grime and hitting womenfolk. Leigh's canvas is much wider and behind everyday doors in everyday streets lie the often dismissed emotional and confused pains of modern life. Ordinary people whose problems seem to be teetering on the edge and to them, unique.
The acting in those more poignant scenes is, as I sometimes describe, natural, as is. As you'd expect a real person to do.
With broad humour, wit and a brisk pace this is still a sparkling snapshot of British semi-suburbia twenty years ago. Nothing too shocking or gratuitous. Not the red-hot, pure grit of hard unemployment of Shane Meadows but the sort of folk we know about, or of, who work alongside us, holding the country together. Somehow.
Sometimes, watching this, you'll wonder how, though....
Whoever wrote the late review missed the boat on this one - 'another boring film from mike leigh', 'i can tell you no such dialog ever did, or ever would take place' - rubbish! This is a very real, moving film. Don't let the plot premise put you off - life in the day of 'typical' english, dysfunctional family of four - the characters develop at slow-burning pace while we watch on at fly-on-the-wall distance. Alison Steadman's character in particular. I initially judged her as a rather silly woman who would giggle at anything, but as the film progresses you see how good a mother she really is, what she does for her children, how she has made sacrifices for them and communicates with them. If people have seen this as a negative film, I hope they reconsider, as, for me, it shows how life is sweet, despite of and because of all the dysfunction of the family.
I usually love Leigh's stuff. Grownups, Nuts in May and Abigail's Party are almost genius, but Life is Sweet is very disappointing. One can usually recognise the characters portrayed or even associate yourself with them or their situations but only Alison Steadman's character seems real. Jane Horrocks is really talented but her character here is too over the top with the most irritating voice since JarJar Binks!! Clare Skinner is good as Nicola's twin sister and they are uncannily alike. Yes they are ordinary working class people and their life is humdrum for the most part. Timothy Spall is wasted in an underplayed comic role which does not really work. The scene where Alison confronts her daughter, Nicola is a good one and reality shines through but for most of the film the parts are not as good as the whole.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
agree with a bunch of these comments, life can be sweet without it
i loved the way the perception of the characters changed as you learnt more about them. knowing mike leigh's style you can be sure that when wendy tells nicola that she gave up university to have her children and says 'You didn't know that did you?', jane horrocks certainly wouldn't have the first time they acted it.
what didn't occur to me later is that although life can be sweet even despite the many difficulties that all families have, there is a tender double meaning for nicola. by excluding her family and relying on her chocolates, life can still stay sweet, but in the most temporary and most bitter way.
i felt so optimistic at the end that they will come out of it all stronger together. upbeat, but as far from a Hollywood ending as you can get.
"Memorized by the extraordinariness of the ordinary."
Saw it twice, can't wait to see it again.
(Not for the average american veiwing audience)
Life is Sweet is a deeply moving, tough slice-of-life served on the
grandiose platter that is cinema. It's a rich little film centered
around an incredibly dysfunctional working class family just north of
London, residing in a congested yet heavily-decorated home. The family
is made up of hard-working and ambitious father Andy (Jim Broadbent),
playful and often whiny mother Wendy (Alison Steadman), determined and
introverted adolescent Natalie (Claire Skinner), and her sarcastic
often patronizing twin Nicola (Jane Horrocks).
Writer/director Mike Leigh follows this dysfunctional bunch, rarely orchestrating a frame that isn't fixated on one of the family members. Through the limitless realms of conversational intimacy and quietly effective, filmic poetry, he allows his characters to talk openly and frequently rather than handing them a contrived plot to work off of. Leigh's style is an incredible one. He takes his actors, provides them with an outline for specific scenes, and allows them to improvise and bounce ideas of one another so as to squeeze all the possibilities out of a certain scene and setting. When Leigh and his tight- knit band of actors are ready, shooting will commence.
Through this tactic, Leigh allows for a rare and unfortunately underrated style of intimacy to prevail. The first fifteen minutes of Life is Sweet provided me with an unparalleled depiction of rapid-fire conversation that I have gone far too long without seeing. This style comes from everyone in the family, who respond just quick and spontaneous enough for realism to triumph over drivel and just naturalistic enough to sound authentic and as if they're making the material up on the dime (which they relatively did). The gifted improvisationist on hand here is Horrocks, playing a deeply- troubled girl who doesn't know what she wants or what direction she is going in life and her only vice is to attack her family members and acquaintances in a demonizing, mean-spirited way. However, this character is not contemptible, at least to us, as we see her insecurity and burdened attitude from a human standpoint rather than one where our response almost seems to giggle and mimic her behavior.
To combat her family's conventional sense of behavior and the world around her, Horrocks' Nicola uses buzzwords and names she willfully takes out of context. "Fascist!," she screams at her mother after she disapproves of her daughter's actions. One can only admire her cute little resistance and opposition to authority for what it is. Her defense mechanism is taking everything, regardless of how genial and well-meaning it is, and using it as an insult or a demeaning remark from somebody ostensibly in an higher position than she is. Despite this, her character has the ability to potentially relate to other members of the audience probably more-so than any other character in this film (and they all can be pretty damn relatable).
A subplot involves a roly-poly, pudgy man named Aubrey (Timothy Spall), a good friend of this dysfunctional family who plans on opening a restaurant downtown, serving unique and somewhat- daring cuisines. Spall plays a character fit for a farce and, at first, seems to be Leigh's attempt to steer this project away from heights too depressing and offputting. However, Leigh finds ways to get this character to fit in perfectly with this dark and often bleak material, offering a slapstick force to the story that isn't too overbearing or nauseating and tiresome. Leigh writes a difficult character effectively and Spall musters up an ample amount of energy and drive to play the character beautifully.
The cinematography by Dick Pope (who would later go on to do Oscar winning cinematographical work in The Illusionist along with similar work in Richard Linklater's Bernie) is also a sight for sore eyes here, combining an array of soft colors with the tenderness of the London atmosphere. Brought into wonderful conjunction with Leigh's astute framing - which occasionally turns daring by narrowing itself in setting to small rooms and through open doorways - the appearance of the film is comparable to the style of independent auteur Wes Anderson. It's touching and a beautiful inclusion to a well-told story.
Ultimately, Life is Sweet is character-heavy and that's its best attribute. Because of its deep-rooted investments in six very intriguing people, it allows its themes and story to hit notes of actual working class life. These same characters could be thrown in a belittling film that either relies too heavily on self- referential trite or nonsensical antics, but instead, sees them as easily-breakable souls through a lens of considerable warmness. I loved Life is Sweet almost as much as my own life - and without the context of this review, that line would seem like a hopeless line of overpraise.
NOTE: Two important sidenotes I felt would feel awkward included in my review; one, Life is Sweet is available on DVD and Blu-Ray through The Criterion Collection, a too- often overlooked film- distribution company outside of the film community that is committed to releasing American film works of considerable quality and significance along with exceptional films of the world. They've released yet another masterful film that may've gone unseen had they not exist.
The other note I have is a question to viewers about Wendy, the mother of the picture. Throughout the film, I noticed her hair turn gray, specifically during the scene when her and Nicola have a meaningful heart-to-heart. I'm curious - is her hair dyed for effect or a result or breakneck improvisation?
Starring: Jim Broadbent, Alison Steadman, Claire Skinner, Jane Horrocks, Stephen Rea, Timothy Spall, David Thewlis, and Moya Brady. Directed by: Mike Leigh.
Just north of London live Wendy, Andy, and their twenty-something
twins, Natalie and Nicola. Wendy clerks in a shop, leads aerobics at a
primary school, jokes like a vaudevillian, agrees to waitress at a
friend's new restaurant and dotes on Andy, a cook who forever puts off
home remodeling projects, and with a drunken friend, buys a broken down
What to make of this film? It seems like the focus is on the twins and how different they are, while all the other characters are just background. Those two alone are quite striking, with one being a bulimic anarchist and the other an androgynous female who could be mistaken for a boy. What is to be made of them?
The title of the film can only be seen s ironic, as no one here is truly happy. Director Mike Leigh covers some of the same ground as he does in "Secrets and Lies", in that he explores the working class world of England. Although I do not think it is an intentional this time around, it is still unavoidable.
Leigh is my favorite director-- and this is one of his best. You get a better idea of what these characters are like watching this film than you could by moving in w/them for a few months. Excellent.
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