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DVD/Blu-ray: Life Is Sweet | reviews, news & interviews

DVD/Blu-ray: Life Is Sweet

DVD/Blu-ray: Life Is Sweet

One of Mike Leigh’s funniest, most quotable features looks and sounds superb in BFI restoration

A Mike Leigh moment: Nicola (Jane Horrocks) and Wendy (Alison Steadman)

Sweet isn’t the right word; in Mike Leigh’s 1990 film, life is unfair, frustrating and confusing by turns. Though, despite the darkness, Life Is Sweet exudes positivity and remains one of Leigh’s funniest, most quotable features.

Many of the best lines are mumbled by Timothy Spall’s grotesque would-be restauranteur Aubrey, especially when he’s talking us through the menu for his Edith Piath-themed restaurant. Anyone for prune quiche? Saveloy on a bed of lychees? Or liver in lager? Spall here is a brilliant physical comedian, whether he’s capsizing a caravan or tumbling off an expensive orthopaedic bed. And our final glimpse of him, semi-conscious on the restaurant floor clad in stripey-fronts, is difficult to forget.

Has any actor ever mined the comic potential of the word 'grout' as well?

Life is Sweet begins as fuzzy family sitcom, with Jim Broadbent’s Andy and Alison Steadman’s Wendy coping with twentysomething twin daughters. Claire Skinner’s androgynous Natalie works as a plumber and enjoys pool sessions in the pub; Jane Horrocks’ Nicola is a furious, tic-ridden bundle of self-loathing. Broadbent’s Andy is an irresistible chump; despite Wendy’s pleas, we know that he’ll never finish laying the patio or fixing the porch. Has any actor ever mined the comic potential of the word “grout” as well, or inspected a simple spoon with such skill? When Andy buys a rusting fast-food caravan from Stephen Rea’s inebriated chancer Patsy, we know that it’ll take him decades to turn it into a viable concern. We hope that he’ll manage it in the end, despite Nicola’s snarling response to his business plan, one wholly in keeping with her “Bollocks to the Poll Tax” T-shirt. This is a very '90s film.Life Is SweetAubrey’s more aspirational catering plans are doomed to failure (pictured above): he loses his waitress, fails to bother with menus or publicity, and abuses his one employee before collapsing. Poor Wendy flees the scene only to find an inebriated Andy crashed out in his caravan after a night out with Patsy, at which point her big-hearted tolerance begins to wear out. Just as you wonder where the narrative is about to go, there’s a jaw-dropping confrontation between Wendy and Nicola which encapsulates what Life is Sweet seems to be telling its audience: that problems and disputes can invariably be resolved through dialogue, and that there is good in all of us.

Which might sound like vacuous new age nonsense, the sort of thing which you might find at the head of a thousand Facebook postings. Leigh’s superb ensemble cast get the point across with rather more eloquence. The BFI’s restored print looks and sounds superb; Rachel Portman’s catchy, doleful score set against Leigh’s brightly coloured visuals. Has Enfield ever looked so alluring?

The extras are mostly good: Leigh’s audio commentary contains a priceless A-Z of Life is Sweet’s subject matter and demonstrates the craft and planning behind the simplest of scenes. There’s an enjoyable interview with Horrocks, further illuminating the director’s working methods. But A Running Jump, a 2010 short commissioned for the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, is a dud, despite Eddie Marsan’s presence. Blighted by a naff soundtrack and bad dubbing, it’s overstretched and not funny enough. The documentation is excellent.

Leigh’s audio commentary demonstrates the craft and planning behind the simplest of scenes


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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