Life is Sweet 13/02/28 2:34
Leigh pulls off the neat trick of making a comedy about wildly eccentric characters without looking down on them. This is partly due, perhaps, to his famously improvisatory methods, in which the cast members create their characters and dialogue through extensive rehearsals. The people are three-dimensional enough to make us feel as if we're simply sitting among them as equals, and the laughter is therefore always tinged with self-recognition, and sometimes with more than a little pain. An extensive subplot features Timothy Spall as a friend of the family who attempts to launch a French restaurant—one of the most ludicrous restaurants ever conceived, with menu items so revolting that I was almost rolling on the floor laughing. But the hilarity is tied up with failure and a sad fit of self-destruction. Leigh's comic world view often winds up on a sad note.
Everyone is in fine form, with Steadman and Broadbent anchoring the show. But the funniest, most vivid, and at the same time the most cartoonish performance is by Jane Horrocks, with her rubbery, squinting little face, screechy voice, and wild mess of hair, smoking furiously and telling everyone off. She's wonderfully obnoxious, and then we get to see the fear and self-hatred behind the rage. The film's ultimate simplicity of feeling is its greatest strength. There's nothing trite about Nicola finding some relief and healing through tears. Neither should the title be taken as a joke. For Leigh, life really is sweet. And the mix of humor and hurt helps make it so.
Life is Sweet is available on DVD.