Life Is Sweet


1h 42m 1990
Life Is Sweet

Brief Synopsis

A tale of everyday survival for several individuals in Margaret Thatcher's Britain.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
R
Genre
Comedy
Drama
Release Date
1990
Production Company
British Screen Finance; Filmfour International; Filmfour International; Thin Man Films, Ltd.
Distribution Company
Alliance Releasing; Alliance Releasing; Fidalgo; Forum Distribution (France); Kuzui Enterprises; October Films; Palace Pictures; Salzgeber & Co. Medien Gmbh
Location
Enfield, London, England, United Kingdom

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 42m

Synopsis

Wendy and Andy are a working-class family in the suburbs of London. They live with their twenty-something twins and grasp at dreams of someday owning a food truck.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
R
Genre
Comedy
Drama
Release Date
1990
Production Company
British Screen Finance; Filmfour International; Filmfour International; Thin Man Films, Ltd.
Distribution Company
Alliance Releasing; Alliance Releasing; Fidalgo; Forum Distribution (France); Kuzui Enterprises; October Films; Palace Pictures; Salzgeber & Co. Medien Gmbh
Location
Enfield, London, England, United Kingdom

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 42m

Articles

Life is Sweet


British writer-director Mike Leigh broke through as an international sensation with this loosely structured 1990 comedy about a group of friends trying to make the most out of life. This was the third and, at that time, most successful of his features, following a long career of directing for television. Life is Sweet's combination of social commentary and slapstick comedy with sardonic wit struck a chord with audiences who were fed up with the politics of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. The time was ripe for a critique of capitalism and family values, and many thought Leigh had delivered that message in a highly entertaining way.

Life is Sweet focuses on Wendy (Alison Steadman), who holds down jobs selling baby clothes and teaching children's dance while trying to deal with a variety of family issues and a house in perpetual need of repairs. Her husband Andy (Jim Broadbent) is a professional chef who has used the family's savings to buy a run-down food truck from his friend Patsy (Stephen Rea) in hopes of becoming his own boss. One daughter, Natalie (Claire Skinner), is a plumber who has no friends and never smiles. Her twin, Nicola (Jane Horrocks), refuses to work, claiming labor is a surrender to corrupt capitalism. Wendy also has to deal with family friend Aubrey (Timothy Spall), a self-styled genius who is opening a French restaurant and claims to be in love with her.

The film's episodic structure is a product of the way Leigh works. He starts with a basic idea, but only reveals it to the cast in bits and pieces. Initially, he works with each actor in private to develop their characters, usually asking them to draw on the people they know. He worked with Spall to develop the outlandish dishes on the menu at Aubrey's restaurant, The Regret Rien, and then checked with a professional chef to make sure they were actually things that could be made. Though, dishes like Tripe Soufflé and Prune Quiche sound comically gross, they're also believable. After private meetings, Leigh brings the actors together to improvise their scenes as he records them, often with cast members having no idea what the other characters will be doing. After much research and discussion with his actors and crew, he finally creates the shooting script and starts making the film. The result is a sense of real life unfolding naturally in front of the camera.

Though many scenes developed with the actors never made it into the finished film, what made it to the screen in Life is Sweet is an affectionate tribute to his characters, as they deal with the spirit of despair arising in a country that seems to have left the working classes behind. Andy and Aubrey cope by losing themselves in impossible dreams of success, while Nicola isolates herself from everybody, refusing to eat with the family and eventually driving off her boyfriend with demands for kinky sex. Only the sweet, good-natured Wendy seems able to cope, but even her solutions don't always work. In the world Leigh creates, there are no easy answers, only more questions.

That questioning spirit is typical of most of Leigh's work. There are no easy answers in his films. His characters struggle to express themselves but are also experts at evading the truth, reflecting the influence of Harold Pinter's elliptical playwriting style on Leigh's work. He photographs this with "a detached, medical watchfulness that is more caring and demanding than it seems at first," according to David Thompson in A Biographical Dictionary of Cinema. His use of long takes has been compared to the work of Japanese director Yasujirô Ozu, whose influence Leigh readily acknowledges. Leigh also has spoken highly of the sense of character and humor in the films of Jean Renoir and Frank Capra, the political resonance of Jean-Luc Godard's early films and the British working-class humor of the Eailing Studios comedies of the 1950s.

Also typical of his other films is the appearances of an unofficial stock company with whom Leigh has worked on several of his films. Steadman, his wife at the time, had been working with him since the television play Hard Labour in 1973 and would go on to appear in Secrets & Lies (1996) and Topsy-Turvy (1999). Spall had also worked with Leigh since his television days and would go on to star in Secrets & Lies, Topsy-Turvy, All or Nothing (2002) and Mr. Turner (2014). Leigh would also make nine films with cinematographer Dick Pope, who shot his most recent picture Peterloo (2018), three with production designer Allison Chitty and seven with editor Jon Gregory.

. Life Is Sweet was shot on location in Enfield, Middlesex, a borough of northern London noted for its firearms factories. Chitty chose the house where Wendy and her family live because she was impressed with its garden shack. She found the food truck in Northampton and painted it to fit with Leigh's primary-color driven palette for the film.

Life Is Sweet was a breakout critical success at the London, New York and Toronto film festivals. Writing in the New York Times, Vincent Canby described the film as "a contemplative comedy about people who aren't." He also praised Leigh's creation of a realistic atmosphere that "evokes the end of the Thatcher era, before a new era has been defined, when times are neither good nor bad, and life is shaped by routine." Variety noted the film's "carefully observed ensemble playing," while Time Out enthused about its "mixing enormous fun with sad, serious subjects: the enterprise of rip-off, adolescent despair, parents' lost dreams for their children, role-playing, the gutsy optimism of decent, ordinary humanity (represented by Broadbent and Steadman in two stunningly unflashy performances)." It was named British Film of the Year by the London Critics Circle and Best Film by the National Society of Film Critics. That organization also named Steadman Best Actress and Horrocks Best Supporting Actress. In addition, Horrocks was named Best Supporting Actress by the Los Angeles Film Critics.

Director-Screenplay: Mike Leigh
Producer: Simon Channing Williams
Cinematography: Eric Dick Pope
Score: Rachel Portman
Cast: Alison Steadman (Wendy), Jim Broadbent (Andy), Claire Skinner (Natalie), Jane Horrocks (Nicola), Stephen Rea (Patsy), Timothy Spall (Aubrey), David Thewliss (Nicola's Lover)

By Frank Miller
Life Is Sweet

Life is Sweet

British writer-director Mike Leigh broke through as an international sensation with this loosely structured 1990 comedy about a group of friends trying to make the most out of life. This was the third and, at that time, most successful of his features, following a long career of directing for television. Life is Sweet's combination of social commentary and slapstick comedy with sardonic wit struck a chord with audiences who were fed up with the politics of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. The time was ripe for a critique of capitalism and family values, and many thought Leigh had delivered that message in a highly entertaining way. Life is Sweet focuses on Wendy (Alison Steadman), who holds down jobs selling baby clothes and teaching children's dance while trying to deal with a variety of family issues and a house in perpetual need of repairs. Her husband Andy (Jim Broadbent) is a professional chef who has used the family's savings to buy a run-down food truck from his friend Patsy (Stephen Rea) in hopes of becoming his own boss. One daughter, Natalie (Claire Skinner), is a plumber who has no friends and never smiles. Her twin, Nicola (Jane Horrocks), refuses to work, claiming labor is a surrender to corrupt capitalism. Wendy also has to deal with family friend Aubrey (Timothy Spall), a self-styled genius who is opening a French restaurant and claims to be in love with her. The film's episodic structure is a product of the way Leigh works. He starts with a basic idea, but only reveals it to the cast in bits and pieces. Initially, he works with each actor in private to develop their characters, usually asking them to draw on the people they know. He worked with Spall to develop the outlandish dishes on the menu at Aubrey's restaurant, The Regret Rien, and then checked with a professional chef to make sure they were actually things that could be made. Though, dishes like Tripe Soufflé and Prune Quiche sound comically gross, they're also believable. After private meetings, Leigh brings the actors together to improvise their scenes as he records them, often with cast members having no idea what the other characters will be doing. After much research and discussion with his actors and crew, he finally creates the shooting script and starts making the film. The result is a sense of real life unfolding naturally in front of the camera. Though many scenes developed with the actors never made it into the finished film, what made it to the screen in Life is Sweet is an affectionate tribute to his characters, as they deal with the spirit of despair arising in a country that seems to have left the working classes behind. Andy and Aubrey cope by losing themselves in impossible dreams of success, while Nicola isolates herself from everybody, refusing to eat with the family and eventually driving off her boyfriend with demands for kinky sex. Only the sweet, good-natured Wendy seems able to cope, but even her solutions don't always work. In the world Leigh creates, there are no easy answers, only more questions. That questioning spirit is typical of most of Leigh's work. There are no easy answers in his films. His characters struggle to express themselves but are also experts at evading the truth, reflecting the influence of Harold Pinter's elliptical playwriting style on Leigh's work. He photographs this with "a detached, medical watchfulness that is more caring and demanding than it seems at first," according to David Thompson in A Biographical Dictionary of Cinema. His use of long takes has been compared to the work of Japanese director Yasujirô Ozu, whose influence Leigh readily acknowledges. Leigh also has spoken highly of the sense of character and humor in the films of Jean Renoir and Frank Capra, the political resonance of Jean-Luc Godard's early films and the British working-class humor of the Eailing Studios comedies of the 1950s. Also typical of his other films is the appearances of an unofficial stock company with whom Leigh has worked on several of his films. Steadman, his wife at the time, had been working with him since the television play Hard Labour in 1973 and would go on to appear in Secrets & Lies (1996) and Topsy-Turvy (1999). Spall had also worked with Leigh since his television days and would go on to star in Secrets & Lies, Topsy-Turvy, All or Nothing (2002) and Mr. Turner (2014). Leigh would also make nine films with cinematographer Dick Pope, who shot his most recent picture Peterloo (2018), three with production designer Allison Chitty and seven with editor Jon Gregory.. Life Is Sweet was shot on location in Enfield, Middlesex, a borough of northern London noted for its firearms factories. Chitty chose the house where Wendy and her family live because she was impressed with its garden shack. She found the food truck in Northampton and painted it to fit with Leigh's primary-color driven palette for the film. Life Is Sweet was a breakout critical success at the London, New York and Toronto film festivals. Writing in the New York Times, Vincent Canby described the film as "a contemplative comedy about people who aren't." He also praised Leigh's creation of a realistic atmosphere that "evokes the end of the Thatcher era, before a new era has been defined, when times are neither good nor bad, and life is shaped by routine." Variety noted the film's "carefully observed ensemble playing," while Time Out enthused about its "mixing enormous fun with sad, serious subjects: the enterprise of rip-off, adolescent despair, parents' lost dreams for their children, role-playing, the gutsy optimism of decent, ordinary humanity (represented by Broadbent and Steadman in two stunningly unflashy performances)." It was named British Film of the Year by the London Critics Circle and Best Film by the National Society of Film Critics. That organization also named Steadman Best Actress and Horrocks Best Supporting Actress. In addition, Horrocks was named Best Supporting Actress by the Los Angeles Film Critics. Director-Screenplay: Mike Leigh Producer: Simon Channing Williams Cinematography: Eric Dick Pope Score: Rachel Portman Cast: Alison Steadman (Wendy), Jim Broadbent (Andy), Claire Skinner (Natalie), Jane Horrocks (Nicola), Stephen Rea (Patsy), Timothy Spall (Aubrey), David Thewliss (Nicola's Lover) By Frank Miller

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

The debut theatrical release for U.S. distributor October Films.

After marking his debut with "Bleak Moments" (Great Britain/1971), Leigh took a 17-year hiatus from feature filmmaking, working almost exclusively for British television (he's also an acclaimed stage director) before receiving international attention for "High Hopes" (Great Britain/1988).

Began shooting May 1990.

Chosen by the London Film Critics Circle as British film of the year (1991).

Released in United States Fall October 25, 1991

Released in United States November 13, 1991 (Los Angeles)

Released in United States on Video August 6, 1992

Released in United States November 1990 (Shown at London Film Festival November 8-25, 1990.)

Released in United States 1991 (Shown at American Film Market (AFM) in Santa Monica February 28 - March 8, 1991.)

Released in United States 1991 (Named best film at the 1991 International Taormina Film Festival. In addition, the entire cast was awarded the Maschera Di Polifermo award.)

Released in United States February 1991 (Shown at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama) February 15-26, 1991.)

Released in United States May 1991 (Shown at Cannes Film Festival (market) May 9-20, 1991.)

Released in United States July 1991 (Shown at International Taormina Film Festival July 21-28, 1991.)

Released in United States August 1991 (Shown at Norwegian Film Festival in Haugesund August 18-24, 1991.)

Shown at Boston Film Festival September 9-19, 1991.

Shown at MIFED in Milan October 20-25, 1991.

Shown at Viennale International Film Festival in Vienna October 18-31, 1996.

Released in United States September 1996

Released in United States October 1996

Shown at London Film Festival November 8-25, 1990.

Shown at American Film Market (AFM) in Santa Monica February 28 - March 8, 1991.

Named best film at the 1991 International Taormina Film Festival. In addition, the entire cast was awarded the Maschera Di Polifermo award.

Shown at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama) February 15-26, 1991.

Shown at Cannes Film Festival (market) May 9-20, 1991.

Shown at International Taormina Film Festival July 21-28, 1991.

Shown at Norwegian Film Festival in Haugesund August 18-24, 1991.

Shown at Toronto Festival of Festivals (Contemporary World Cinema) September 5-14, 1991.

Named best film of 1991 by the Europacinema Accademia Italiana.

Voted Best Picture of the Year (1991) by the National Society of Film Critics. Also cited for Best Actress (Alison Steadman) and Best Supporting Actress (Jane Horrocks).

Released in United States Fall October 25, 1991

Released in United States November 13, 1991

Released in United States January 3, 1992

Released in United States on Video August 6, 1992

Released in United States November 1990

Released in United States 1991

Released in United States February 1991

Released in United States May 1991

Released in United States July 1991

Released in United States August 1991

Released in United States September 1991

Released in United States October 1991

Released in United States January 3, 1992

Released in United States September 1991 (Shown at Toronto Festival of Festivals (Contemporary World Cinema) September 5-14, 1991.)

Released in United States September 1991 (Shown at Boston Film Festival September 9-19, 1991.)

Released in United States October 1991 (Shown at MIFED in Milan October 20-25, 1991.)

Released in United States September 1996 (Shown in New York City (Anthology Film Archives) as part of program "Best of the Indies" September 5-15, 1996.)

Released in United States October 1996 (Shown at Viennale International Film Festival in Vienna October 18-31, 1996.)

Jane Horrocks was named best supporting actress by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (1991).