Few directors are able to capture the fundamentals of ordinary life as perfectly or as beautifully than Britain’s very own Mike Leigh. His body of work ranges from his largely improvised High Hopes (1988), the raw and powerful Naked (1993) to this slice of the everyday, Life is Sweet (1990).
Few directors are able to capture the
fundamentals of ordinary life as perfectly or as beautifully than Britain’s
very own Mike Leigh. His body of work ranges from his largely improvised High
Hopes (1988), the raw and powerful Naked (1993) to this slice of the everyday,
Life is Sweet (1990).
Most will argue that every Mike Leigh
project is a slice of life movie, his most commercial success was 2008′ Happy
Go Lucky and showed a slightly lighter side to the filmmaker but he didn’t
stray too far from what he does best.
Back in 1990 Life is Sweet contained one
of the greatest ensemble British casts for its time. Alison Steadman and
Jim Broadbent play Wendy and Andy, the parents of twins Nicola (Jane
Horrocks) and Natalie (Claire Skinner). Andy is a good man but he’d
rather spend the afternoon tinkering in his shed than trying to deal with Nicola’s
eating disorder and his lot in life. Natalie is a plumber and has adopted many
male mannerisms; she has no desire for romance or dating, opting to read travel
brochures alone in her room at night.
Andy buys a broken down fast food van which he
see as a big money maker if he can fix it up. There’s no explosions, no masked
killer, no countdown to make it to the airport to get the girl of your dreams,
but the lost and forgotten dreams we all have plays a central part of this
movie. Andy and Wendy have a shed full of broken dreams between them, and like
so many families they plod along never really getting what they wanted from
life but both still clearly in love with each other despite their situation.
There isn’t a bad performance by any of the
cast, Leigh regular Timothy Spall as family friend Aubrey almost steals
the show and Stephen Rea and David Thewlis also appear. Thewlis
plays Nicola’s unnamed lover and the actor was just a couple of years away from
his outstanding lead performance in Naked, a film that changed the course of
the young actors career.
At its core there is something we all can
relate to from the characters, from the board housewife, to the confused teenagers
and everybody has met an Aubrey type at some point in their lives.
The ending still packs a huge emotional punch
for a little movie, and it’s through the smallest of gestures from Natalie to
Nicola in the closing moments that will have even the toughest of blokes wiping
a tear from their eye. Mike Leigh would go on to build a career of masterfully
small but thoughtful movies, his well observed eye has never let him down as
2010’s Another Year (which reunited him with Jim Broadbent) was perhaps
his most accomplished work to date.
The Blu-ray transfer is good if not
spectacular, but Life is Sweet might not be the most obvious choice to watch on
the hi-def format but it’s an unmissable film that is just as moving, poignant,
and funny as it was 22 years ago. Like a fine wine Mike Leigh’s movies get
better with age.