Life Is Sweet

Life Is Sweet ★★★★

Working-class woes and modern periods of bleak history are put to film, more often than not, with the intention of capturing an abstract feeling. Something we as an audience can vaguely learn from, about a certain mood among a ramshackle bunch of characters. Tangible links between the unique individuals within Life is Sweet make a sturdy, enjoyable foundation, bringing to light some of the more pressing issues of the time. Some now outdated, others that are as relevant today as they were thirty years ago, when this Mike Leigh directed feature first released. 

Combining the array of collaborators, director Leigh brings out a formidable cast of recognisable faces. From the leading style of Alison Steadman and Claire Skinner to the underlying, steadfast support featured by Timothy Spall and David Thewlis. All of these projected characters are given more than enough time to grow, a spurt in the right direction and a vague sense of where they may or may not be going is all they need. Steadman and Jane Horrocks steal the show here, their emotionally charged, stand-off nature can be categorised as either intricate love or a lack of understanding between the two. Either way, it provides a marvellous expose into how families interact with one another when. Tensions rise as quickly as they dissipate, a friendly face plastered on to interact with the neighbours. Polite conversation, cups of tea, the seething hatred between the two just barely visible as we crack through another enthralling bit of work from such tremendous stars. 

There must be a catalyst for such animosity, and that there is. Never quite specified, but each character has their benefits and drawbacks. Some are stronger than others, but their negative qualities fit the dislikes of one other family member. Andy (Jim Broadbent) and his frequent promises of fixing up the house fall on deaf ears and awkwardly civil protests as he bounces from project to project, a sign of desperation. The belief he can escape his job, a solid position to have but not something that satisfies the creativity and business savvy mind he believes he can attend. Characters that aren’t hitting the heights of their potential are thoroughly explored here, Natalie (Skinner) a grand example of being satisfied, but far from happy.  

Right in the heart of this poll tax protest, slice of life picture, is a core of likeable characters attempting to survive in their own imperfect way. Life is Sweet isn’t so much a call to arms as it is an appreciation of those trying their best when times are tough. The Dad trying to start up his own business with a bit of scrap metal, a couple quid to his name and a broken foot, the rebellious teens who don’t realise how much support they need just yet. Leigh directs it all with passion and experience, something we can always expect from his fitting style of direction. Not so much a focus on aimlessness, but a fitting image of summery survival, attempting to crack through the ceiling of their class, wanting to take themselves to the next level, but never knowing how. Life is Sweet is far from what its title would suggest, the underlying sense of bitterness and exasperated hopelessness clear to see in pockets of brilliance.  

If you liked this review, you can read more of my work on my website, Cult Following.