Mike Leigh’s sweet and sour slice-of-British-life dramedy Life Is Sweet makes for a lovely, involving introduction to a British middle class family with its everyday ups and downs that remind us of the universality of family life. Featuring a handful of ingratiating performances by actors who have become much better known in the years since this film premiered, Life Is Sweet holds our attention between chuckles and occasional misty eyes.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 43 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 05/28/2013
Andy (Jim Broadbent) and Wendy (Alison Steadman) are a happily married couple who work hard but enjoy their small creature comforts and revel in each other’s company despite their own eccentricities. He manages an upscale restaurant’s kitchen and she’s a saleswoman in a children’s clothing store while also conducting dance classes for young girls on the side. They’re a generally cheerful and loving couple even though he’s afflicted with perpetual procrastination with chores around the house while falling victim to schemes that his chum Patsy (Stephen Rea) talks him into. Their twin daughters Natalie (Claire Skinner) and Nicola (Jane Horrocks) couldn’t be more different: Natalie’s a tomboyish plumber while Nicola is a bad-tempered lay about not interested in doing anything but complaining and being snide to everyone else including her secret boy friend (David Thewlis) who visits while everyone else is away at work but must submit to Nicola’s rather fetishistic sexual desires.
The Production Rating: 4/5
Mike Leigh’s screenplay is filled with lots of little moments rather than having any kind of grand and glorious design. The family’s life with its small ups and downs are cheerfully presented and aren’t milked for any great melodramatic statements. In fact, the film’s one big revelation about a secret Nicola is hiding is likewise not squeezed for any kind of hyper-emotional juice for some big dramatic reveal near the film’s end. Instead, Leigh does the opposite with it making it a matter between the sisters which suggests the troubled girl will finally reveal all to her loving parents soon after the film ends. Such a lack of pretentious drama is so welcome that the other major events of the film (the father’s mindless lark buying a rusty old food cart on a pipe dream of running it himself to earn extra money for the family, an extended sequence showing the preparation and opening night of slow-witted chum Aubrey’s (Timothy Spall) new restaurant, and Wendy’s lengthy plea to Nicola to join the world rather than constantly disdaining everything in it) play beautifully on their own. Leigh’s direction is subtle: he uses close-ups showing some occasionally disgusting details but just as often allowing emotions to cross the faces of the characters so that they can’t be missed, and yet stages Aubrey’s increasingly drunken opening night so that the entire catastrophe is caught without missing a beat.
Alison Steadman gives a remarkable performance as the good-natured mom trying her best to make her family work as a cohesive unit (she has a habit of laughing at her own little jokes and teases, and her giggle which one might think would be irritating after a time instead becomes irresistible). Jim Broadbent matches her every step of the way as the easy-going, easily misled Andy whose own small adventures during the film are preciously engaging. Jane Horrocks’ performance as the venom-spewing Nicola does grow a bit tiresome with her constant negativity and refusal to play the game of life, but such dark clouds amid so much chipper sunshine is necessary for any drama to exist. Claire Skinner as the deadpan daughter with seemingly few problems is a solid rock for the family. As family friends with their own peculiar personalities, Timothy Spall and Stephen Rae are both sublime, particularly Spall whose descent into a drunken stupor is terrifically modulated in the restaurant opening sequence. David Thewlis is likewise very effective as the boy friend with the most common sense shown among the characters.
The transfer has been framed at the theatrically correct 1.85:1 aspect ratio and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. All of the elements that go into making a reference-quality transfer are present: outstanding sharpness, excellent color saturation levels with realistic flesh tones, deep black levels, and a grain consistency that gives a very film-like look to the transfer. The film has been divided into 17 chapters.
Video Rating: 5/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 surround sound mix is very subtle but enormously effective. Rachel Portman’s engaging music score offers a solid foundation to the mix while dialogue recording has been accomplished masterfully making for an easily discernible listening experience. (Those unaccustomed to the somewhat heavy accents of these lower middle class Brits may need to turn on the subtitles occasionally.)
Audio Rating: 4/5
Audio Commentary: writer-director Mike Leigh provides a thorough discussion about the making of the film.
Special Features Rating: 3/5
Mike Leigh at the National Film Theater (1:00:56): an audio-only presentation of the writer-director’s comments on the movie after a screening. Many of his comments are also present in the audio commentary.
Five Minute Films (3:03): Mike Leigh offers an audio introduction to a set of five short films produced in 1975 for television.
- Probation (5:23, HD): a troubled lad meets his probation officer
- Birth of the Goalie for the 2001 F.A. Cup Final (5:39, HD): the best of the five shorts as a couple moves through time from discussion of having a child to the father teaching his son soccer.
- Old Chums (5:34, HD): a boorish friend detains another man eager to leave
- A Light Snack (5:32, HD): a window cleaner eats a sausage roll while we concurrently see them being made
- Afternoon (5:39, HD): two drunken moms chit-chat and tease a newlywed about her upcoming married life
16-Page Booklet: contains cast and crew lists, some color stills from the movie, and film critic David Sterritt’s incisive essay on the film’s singular achievements.
Timeline: can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
Mike Leigh’s Life Is Sweet is one of those films that’s been easy to overlook down through the years, but its lovely, understated look at the life of a middle class family easily grows on you and is a film that ought to be seen. Outstanding video and audio encodes make it an easy recommendation.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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