Incredible opening, David Thewlis having abusive sex with some woman, she threatens him, he immediately steals a car and skips town. He’s off to visit his ex Louise (Lesley Sharp of The Full Monty) but she’s at work, her roomie Sophie (Mike Leigh regular Katrin Cartlidge) lets him in, hilarious, doesn’t move her mouth when she talks. When Louise does get home he’s awfully rude to her for having a job and being boring, then he fucks Sophie who gets clingy so he becomes increasingly violent and horrible to her.

Sophie and Louise:

This shot is a bit much:

Jeremy/Sebastian is a yuppie powerguy, possibly the two girls’ landlord, who shows up at their flat and terrorizes them, shortly after “Johnny” Thewlis has gone on walkabout in the city. Johnny hangs out with incredibly daft Scot Ewen “Spud” Bremner, quietly destroys security guard Peter Wight with philosophy, then pays a visit to Brian’s drunken dream girl. He follows a diner waitress home (Gina McKee of In The Loop, I think), quiet and nervous (and also drunk), who freaks and kicks him out in the cold, where he gets his ass kicked by a concert promoter and some random youths. Johnny comes home to the girls, rejects Sophie even in his decrepit state, takes some cash and runs. As a study of character and place/time it’s perfect and self-contained, but I still checked out the audio commentary… turned it off when Leigh explained that “pulling pints means working at a pub.”

With Jeremy:

Blowing Brian’s mind:

With Spud… eh???

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.

Mike D’A:

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.

In the 1880’s, writer Gilbert and composer Sullivan are discontent. The reviews aren’t great for their new show, and each is considering going his own way. Then Gilbert sees a Japanese culture exhibit and is inspired to write The Mikado. The theater owner books it, the actors prepare, and the play is a big hit.

And the whole thing is an exercise in futility to me, because the movie seems to presuppose that I know/care anything about Gilbert, Sullivan or The Mikado, which I do not. It’s all superbly acted, and meticulously designed. Some of the performance scenes are wonderfully filmed. I was marvelling at one in particular, detached, realizing that I have no desire to see this scene filmed, but if somebody must film it, Leigh is doing a bang-up job. Seems like it’s all a ton of fun, but the fun isn’t infectious. Maybe it was just the mood I was in, but for now, this is the rare film I admire but don’t enjoy.

Broadbent with his large, frowny eyes:

Sullivan (Allan Corduner of Me Without You, De-Lovely) is ill, but still manages to attend the opening of his Princess Ida at the Savoy Theater. After seeing the response, he runs around telling everyone he wants to write a grand opera instead of these “topsy-turvy” musicals. Gilbert (Jim “Inspector Butterman” Broadbent) is crotchety and complainy, having problems at home with his depressingly childless wife. There are parties and rehearsals. I noticed the great Shirley Henderson as one of the actresses, but didn’t recognize Andy “Gollum” Serkis, Kevin “Tommy in Trainspotting” McKidd or Lesley “every Mike Leigh movie” Manville.

I am into Shirley Henderson:

A. Taubin:

The film takes its shape from the characters, their relationships, and the abundance of historical information about the world they inhabit—and the ways in which it’s both distant from and close to our own. When Gilbert uses one of the first telephones in a private home in London to talk to D’Oyly Carte, what’s delightful is not only the look of the phone itself but that he has to work out an entirely new etiquette of communication. Sullivan drops into a casual conversation the tidbit that his relatives, the Churchills, have a handful in their headstrong eleven-year-old son, Winston.

Sully conducts his… masterpiece?

The one bit that sucked me in was when lead Mikado actor Timothy Spall’s solo song gets cut for pacing on the night before the premiere, and the cast holds a nervous stairwell confrontation with a humorless Gilbert, who agrees to reinstate it. That part got me because I felt the tension; I’d hate for anything bad to happen to Timothy Spall.

There’s a traffic jam on the movie-blog because I couldn’t think of anything to say about Happy-Go-Lucky. I liked it though! Katy kinda liked it too. Happy teacher Sally Hawkins tries to infect everyone around her with happiness, meets a stone wall in her paranoid, misanthropic driving instructor. There’s also trouble with an unresponsive store clerk, a mentally disturbed homeless man, her picture-perfect pregnant sister, and a young school bully with abuse issues at home. Through the kid Sally meets a cute boy, a child counselor with whom she goes boating at the end.

I don’t remember Sally Hawkins from Vera Drake. I don’t remember driving instructor Eddie Marsan from any of his eight movies I’ve seen in the last five years, poor guy. I’ll look out for him playing John Houseman in Linklater’s new movie.

People who called this movie the flipside to Leigh’s Naked were right on (though Leigh himself doesn’t think so). It’s one of the few movies I’ve seen theatrically lately which I would gladly watch again right now.

D. Denby: “Leigh surrounds her with a realistic social world—workplace, family, students, a variety of grumpy and dissatisfied people. She greets them all with such frothy benevolence that you fear for her. Yet the movie, shot on sunshiny, light-filled days, feels joyous and loose-limbed, and the audience learns to relax and go with it.”