"Life is Sweet", Mike Leigh's 1990 snapshot of the suburban family condition at the tail end of the Thatcher era, is often depressing and occasionally harrowing. It is also ultimately joyous, not just for the sharpness of Leigh's satire--the script was improvised with and by the cast--but also for the real affection that binds the family together. Through a series of minor crises, channels of communication silted up by the daily grind and terminal self-absorption are gradually eased open and the film ends on a note of genuine hope.
As parents Wendy and Andy, Alison Steadman and Jim Broadbent give virtuoso performances: two adults who use fantasy, mundane work and a stream of banal chatter to keep reality at bay before a freak kitchen accident forces them to stop and take stock. They have two daughters to perplex them: one a plumber (Claire Skinner) and the other an angry anorexic (Jane Horrocks, unsparing in a gut-wrenching bulimic scene). Timothy Spall is hilarious as family friend Aubrey, a would-be restaurateur whose efforts to establish a gourmet eatery in Enfield collapse in hopeless, drunken farce. This is not an overtly political film, but the sense of a stake being driven through the heart of the 1980s enterprise culture is unmistakeable. Inspiring. --"Piers Ford"