Release Date(s)1990 (May 28, 2013)
Studio(s)Film Four International (Criterion - Spine #659)
- Film/Program Grade: A+
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B+
When it comes to films about families, they usually fall into one of two categories: funny or serious. And most of the time, they’re families that you can’t relate to on any level. They’re either way too comedic and silly or they’re way too dramatic and over-bearing. I don’t see a lot of those kinds of movies usually because they don’t feel all that real to me, which is why Life Is Sweet is a breath of fresh air.
Life Is Sweet is Mike Leigh’s classic family-oriented comedy, released in 1990, that examines a British middle-class family and how their lives play out amongst each other over the course of several days. Now that sounds like a synopsis for which I was just describing in the previous paragraph, and you can almost see the movie in your head. You could paste Robin Williams’ or Steve Martin’s head onto the father figure, add a bunch of cute or reckless kids and throw some wacky hijinks or family drama into the mix and you got yourself a “family comedy.” Thankfully, Mike Leigh takes the time to rise above all of that and present a family that is both genuinely funny and genuinely dramatic, but most of all, relatable. They’re full of love, laughs and problems, and none of it feels over-the-top or pretentious. It just feels like a real slice of life.
And all of the performances are fantastic, with particular props to Jane Horrocks and Timothy Spall, although Alison Steadman and Jim Broadbent are wonderful as the silly and lovable mum and dad. Everyone has their moment to shine in the film, several times actually, and all of the characters don’t really change all that much. We’re not learning about how they overcome some great obstacle. It’s just a snapshot of them as a family and what they go through on a daily basis. There is some dramatic stuff in there, but it’s never the catalyst for anything. It’s just a part of the fabric, which is completely right. The film is also very funny and at times delightful, but also takes the time to be down to earth. A great cast, a fantastic score and solid direction make this one a real winner in my book.
This is going to sound like a cliché, I know, but Life Is Sweet truly looks like it was shot yesterday. It’s so crisp and vibrant, and Criterion’s 2K restoration of the film, with supervision by the film’s cinematographer Dick Pope, makes that ever more apparent. It’s a gorgeous transfer, and every bit as perfect as you’d hope it to be. A solid grain structure, no apparent film-defects, stable frames, eye-popping colors, deep blacks, amazing skin tones and perfect brightness and contrast. It’s a perfect video presentation to my eyes. The film’s soundtrack, which is an uncompressed English 2.0 track, is quite good for what it is. I don’t think it would benefit much from a 5.1 soundtrack upgrade, so this is as good as it gets to me. The film’s original sound design remains intact, and is crisp and clear, especially with dialogue, which is the driving force behind it all. The score is integrated into the proceedings well also. Ambience and sound effects, although not abundant, are there and are represented well, too. It’s a great soundtrack, overall. Subtitles in English can also be found.
You won’t find a plethora of supplemental features, but you’ll find enough that are worth your time. There’s a newly-recorded audio commentary with director Mike Leigh; a 1991 Q&A with Leigh at the National Film Theatre in London (audio only); five short films written and directed by Leigh for a proposed BBC TV series entitled Five-Minute Films (with an audio introduction by Leigh): Probation, The Birth of the Goalie of the 2001 F.A. Cup Final, Old Chums, A Light Snack and Afternoon; and finally, a 16-page booklet featuring a new essay by critic David Sterritt.
All in all, family comedies are hard to make interesting, and this one just excels greatly. It probably won’t be everyone’s favorite because there isn’t really a beginning, middle and ending to it, but if you’re looking for interesting characters that feel true-to-life, then Life Is Sweet is right up your alley. And Criterion’s Blu-ray and DVD releases of the film are not to be missed.
- Tim Salmons