Thursday, December 16, 2010

Life is Sweet (Mike Leigh) - 1990

Having watched so many of Leigh's films over the past two weeks, I have to ask myself 'how does Leigh do it?' How does Leigh continue to use the same themes, the same methods, and handfuls of the same actors... but, still create something new and different with each film? It has something to do with experience. Something to do with the complexity of our daily lives. There is just so much humor, darkness, and truth to every interaction of our lives. Leigh has taken a lense to the daily, to the quotidian, to the simple and the complex.

In Life is Sweet, Leigh is giving us another family dramedy in line with High Hopes. Although, Life is Sweet is much more humorus. Life is Sweet is quite possibly the easiest Leigh film for a wider audience. Many of Leigh's film to follow this are much longer, darker, and less audience friendly in terms of a wide appeal. The character study is still very much at play, but Leigh is focused on more of a story in this film.

The main story, but not the films complete focus, is one of the twin daughters, Nicola (played by Jane Horrocks, Absolutely Fabulous' Bubbles and Little Voice). Nicola is a troubled 20-something living with her mother, father, and sister in her childhood home. She's a lost soul, but not willing to admit she's gone astray. She is dealing with an eating disorder and a sex fetish involving food. Her desire for food and attention and control is really rolled up so tightly in one of the film's scenes.

The mother, Wendy (played by Alison Steadman, Abigail's Party), steals the entire film. She giggles at just about everything. But, you giggle with her. She's a hopeful woman. A bright spirit. She admits life isn't easy. She admits she could have given up so many years ago. But, she won't. She hasn't. And she keeps fighting. Smiling. Giggling.

Jim Broadbent (Topsy-Turvy, Iris) has a lovely role as the dream chasing, drinking father. This might not be his strongest film, but he does a lovely job. Stephen Rea (The Crying Game, Breakfast on Pluto) plays a low life who is always leading Broadbent's father character into another money scam. Rea isn't a likeable character, but this is what Rea does best... plays the character to leave you a little bit uncomfortable.

It amazes me that Leigh follows the lovely and hopeful LIfe is Sweet with the strongest film in his filmography, Naked. Leigh takes the small amounts of hope from the previous films and rips them to pieces in Naked. So quickly Leigh moves into his darkest work, his masterpiece. Also, Leigh follows Life is Sweet with his most popular and greatest films (Naked, Secrets & Lies, Topsy-Turvy).


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