Sometimes in the middle of SHOCKtober you need to take a break and watch something called Life Is Sweet. Hoping the title isn’t a pun on the faux-punk character’s episodes of binging on candy bars then vomiting them up. The whole thing’s a bit less cheerful than the title would suggest, but it’s implied that everyone (except maybe poor Timothy Spall) will turn out alright.
Jim Broadbent (not yet an internationally beloved figure, he was at the time a Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam regular who’d recently appeared in Superman IV) and Alison Steadman (also in a Gilliam movie, and Mrs. Bennett in the Pride & Prejudice mini-series) live in a row house with twin daughters Nat (a boyish plumber) and Nicola (unemployed punk with gross food issues). There’s not much to the movie plot-wise – Jim buys a fixer-upper food truck from buddy Stephen Rea (The Crying Game, V for Vendetta) but doesn’t fix it up, and the family helps a very goofy Timothy Spall (who was unsurprisingly absent from cinemas for a half-decade after this performance, hopefully toning it down for Leigh’s Secrets & Lies in 1996) with his restaurant opening.
The restaurant thing is a huge failure and seems to take up half of the movie’s runtime. The simple family relations held more of my interest, especially when involving the grounded Nat (Claire Skinner of Leigh’s Naked) and unstable Nicola (Jane Horrocks in Roeg’s The Witches the same year, later star of Little Voice) who has a breakdown after her poseur politics get taken down by boyfriend David Thewlis, finally allowing herself to be consoled by her mom. Also, Broadbent and Steadman laugh constantly, all movie long, which is extremely comforting given what’s going on around them.
The mid-film reveal of Andy as a chef in charge of a large staff remains one of my all-time favorite “plot twists” … Life Is Sweet accomplishes everything Leigh would later attempt in Happy-Go-Lucky, except far more subtly and spread across multiple characters.