Mike Leigh is recognized in this country for his later work: Naked, Topsy Turvy, Secrets and Lies, and those movies are excellent, verging on perfection, but his earlier work, which is less seen here, is equally amazing. I recommended some time ago another favorite, Grown Ups, which had finally come to DVD in a collection set.
Unfortunately, such luck has not befallen Life is Sweet, and you will either have to rent it on VHS or get an all region player. Really, anything you need to do to make this happen is worth it. This bittersweet, truly touching and laugh out loud funny is nothing short of sublime.
Alison Steadman and Jim Broadbent give full and intricate performances as the loving parents to twin daughters (Claire Skinner and Jane Horrocks) and Timothy Spall is ingenious as their odd friend. All are struggling to balance happiness and the everyday woes of life.
The father is a chef who yearns for more freedom and finds it in a fast food caravan; the mother is a cheery optimist who wants to help everyone; one daughter is a plumber who seems to be the only character at peace but is lonely; and the other daughter is a grade A mess dealing with eating disorders and depression while their friend is attempting to open a less than appetizing restaurant–the opening of said restaurant is one of the funniest scenes in any movie, ever.
If you took that plot and turned it into a Hollywood movie, groans would be justifiably audible. Can't you just see Robin Williams and Diane Lane as the parents, Hilary Duff and Mandy Moore as the children? The experience is nothing like the crappy, quirky, indie family comedy you might be used to.
Like all Leigh's movies (which are first improvised extensively with the actors, then written), you feel like you are peeping in on the characters lives more than watching a fictional movie. Seriously, see this movie.