Life Is Sweet (1990)
April 22, 2024 7:44 AM - Subscribe

[TRAILER] Just north of London live Wendy (Alison Steadman), Andy (Jim Broadbent), and their twenty-something twins, Natalie (Calire Skinner) and Nicola (Jane Horrocks).Andy attempts to fix up a food truck for a new business. Wendy tires to help family friend Aubrey (Timothy Spall) open a new restaurant. Cranky, on-the-dole Nicola butts heads with her hard-working sister Natalie and her wary lover (David Thewlis).

Also starring Moya Brady, Stephen Rea, David Neilson, Harriet Thorpe, Paul Trussell, Jack Thorpe-Baker.

Written and directed by Mike Leigh. Produced by Simon Channing Williams for Thin Man Films. Cinematography by Dick Pope. Edited by Jon Gregory. Music by Rachel Portman.

93% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Currently streaming in the US on Criterion. JustWatch listing.
posted by DirtyOldTown (7 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This really snuck up on me. It's enjoyable enough throughout its runtime, even as Horrocks' Nicola is, at first blush, a bit shrill and Spall's Aubrey can be cringe-inducing. By the end, though, it really pulls it all together, and you realize you've been watching a fairly layered rumination on what dreams mean for working people.

Each of the main cast is someone with a different relationships to their dreams. Andy has made a lot of compromises and has a job that grinds him down, but as long as he has his family and can daydream about some project or other (which he will probably never actually get to doing), he is happy. Aubrey's dreams are ludicrous. He dreams of being the successful owner of a classy French restaurant and of being married to Wendy. thing is, he doesn't know the first thing about running a business, he has no sense of style or class, and he's a horrible cook (his menu is hilarious: "liver in lager"; "a single king prawn on a bed of jam and yogurt.") And Wendy, he knows full well, is already very happily married to his best friend Andy. Meanwhile, Wendy herself has found happiness by being able to enjoy her family and her friends, and having the spirit to enjoy a laugh, no matter what happens. She doesn't need to daydream to feel complete. Natalie's dreams may feel prosaic (she's a plumber, spending years planning a trip to the US, but "not Disneyland, only the real places") but she's doing exactly what she wants to do, so she's happy. Her sister Nicola is worst off of everyone, living on the dole and fighting an eating disorder. Above all, she's miserable at the idea that since she might not get everything she wants in life, it's stupid to want anything. So she is stuck.

The end, where Wendy finally lays it all out for Nicola, explains to her that the people around her aren't stupid, aren't useless, but are in fact the redeeming parts of life, is devastating and lovely. The effect is so strong that it's a bit like having watched a magic trick. You thought you were watching a meandering kitchen sink piece, but really it was a fully-formed argument about how to be happy with a modest life.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:06 AM on April 22 [8 favorites]

OK DOT, you sold me.
posted by biffa at 8:42 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]

So I went to his on a date. My date had picked it out, believing it to be a fun and heartwarming drama, which... it isn't. Halfway through, he turned to me and whispered "I am so sorry." I answered that, while it wasn't what I was expecting, I was enjoying it, and not to worry. There was a bit of kissing afterward, so, job done, I recall.

It's pretty emotionally grueling, as I recall, so not everyone's going to like it, but I found the raw and brutal emotions approach circumvented my general distaste for UK comedy driven by social embarrassment, which was welcome. It's one of those stories where, if you can see why the characters are like that, you can kind of root for them and hope they have some sort of epiphany, while also understanding that they would be so exhausting to know in real life.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:12 AM on April 22

Oh, and I mentioned it offhandedly to a friend this last Friday, and she said "Oh, I loved that movie!" so there's that, too.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:13 AM on April 22

I feel like there's a fairly excellent "Which 'Life Is Sweet' character are you?" web quiz waiting to be built?

I'm Andy: stuck in a professional life that makes me miserable, but very happy with my family, and with various projects I will never get to as outputs for my remaining optimism.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:42 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]

I have yet to regret a single moment spent with Mike Leigh

and I deeply appreciate the actors who have worked with him across multiple projects, Timothy Spall stands out but Broadbent and Thewlis.. loving it. And Steadman and Horrocks?? I have seen this film but it has been so long that watching it again would be its own reward.
posted by elkevelvet at 11:54 AM on April 22 [6 favorites]

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