Blu-ray
Highly Recommended
4 stars
List Price
$39.95
Amazon
$22.49 (44%)
3rd Party
$21.13
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Overall Grade
4 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
5 Stars
HD Video Quality
4.5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
3.5 Stars
Supplements
2.5 Stars
High-Def Extras
0 Stars
Bottom Line
Highly Recommended

Life is Sweet

Street Date:
May 28th, 2013
Reviewed by:
Review Date: 1
June 10th, 2013
Movie Release Year:
1990
Studio:
Criterion
Length:
103 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Unrated
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

If I was stranded on a deserted island and I was only allowed one film to satisfy my entertainment needs, it would be one of Mike Leigh's films, particularly 'Topsy Turvy'. It's characters, set pieces, and story are all top notch, if not some of the best you'll ever see. 'Life is Sweet', which was made almost a decade prior has some of the same cast, and while it may not have the dramatic set pieces that 'Topsy Turvy' did, it makes up for them in characters and story. This small tale at times harshly mixes family comedy with some very depressing issues. What works best is that this it's ultimately a story about a family living their life, warts and all.

One of the reasons I loved HBO's 'Six Feet Under' is that the show centered around a seemingly normal family. And in fact they were. I fell in love with each character and rooted for them, even though they had some major problems, but that's how life is. We are all not perfect in any way, and too many times we tend to see in film or television glimpses of what a family is like. Most of the time, these families have minuscule problems and always like each other at the end of the day. That's not the case in real life nor in 'Life is Sweet'. Instead of a happy-go-lucky family, we get a family trying to get by who don't always see eye to eye.

The heads of the household are Andy (Jim Broadbent) and Wendy (Alison Steadman), who are a working class family in a suburb of London with two twin twenty-something daughters, Natalie (Claire Skinner) and Nicola (Jane Horrocks). Andy and Wendy are happy in their career decisions and while they are not the richest family on the block, they manage to get by. Natalie and Nicola want more though. Natalie is a soft spoken girl who wants to see what is outside of London and desires to experience love. On the other hand, Nicola is a very angry girl who hates her family and place in life, and wants nothing more than to be alone and on her own.

Being in the catering business for a long time, Andy decides to purchase a fast food caravan for cheap from a guy named Patsy (Stephen Rea). Wendy supports her husband's efforts and does what she can to help him. Meanwhile, a friend of the family named Aubrey (Timothy Spall) informs them he wants to open a modern French bistro in their neighborhood, although his plans for the restaurant are completely bizarre. His decor is outlandish while his menu seems like it was taken straight from that famous dinner scene in 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom'.

Being a good friend, Wendy says she will volunteer when needed to help with Aubrey's restaurant, however due to poor planning and unreliable people, the opening night is a disaster, leaving both Wendy and Aubrey and emotional drunken wreck. At the same time, the angry Nicola starts to realize that her parents and sister actually like her, despite her being rude every chance she gets. When her boyfriend played by David Thewlis comes over, her only means of a climax involves some serious fetishes. Her emotional state is so fragile, that she doesn't bother telling her boyfriend how she feels, leaving him no choice but to leave her. And with a funny, yet minor accident that leaves Andy with a broken ankle, this misfit family comes together and tries to get along.

What works best here is the dialogue between the characters. It all seems so real and free of any cliche. It's also quite comical as we all know people with the same quirks and flaws in our own lives. At some points during the film, you almost feel like you're watching a documentary on a family as Leigh filmed this with a raw and unpolished look. The results bring an organic and wonderful feel to cinema. 'Life is Sweet' shows a family's failures and strengths perfectly and apologetically and is highly recommended.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

'Life is Sweet' comes with an impressive 1080p HD transfer presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The disc says that it is a new digital transfer from the original camera negative in 2K resolution. The detail is very sharp, providing some excellent close ups. We can see defined wrinkles, individual hair follicles, and stitching in clothing. Even in the wide shots, the depth is amazing and very clear.

The colors tend to take on more earthy tones and pop off screen. Nothing seems softened at all here or overly saturated. It all looks like it's from the actual source material and hasn't been altered. The flesh tones are natural and smooth with the black levels running deep and inky. There were no compression issues, nor any dirt, banding, or aliasing on this release. This is a top notch video presentation.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

This release comes with a lossless DTS-HD 2.0 audio mix and sounds very good for what it is. I wish this was converted to 5.1, only to have a more immersive sound. That being said, the audio does its job. The dialogue is clear and crisp and never hard to understand. The score and music in the film sound great too and add that emotional element to every scene. I only wish I could have heard it in 5.1.

The ambient noises and sound effects are there, but everything comes out of the fronts, so there is not a whole lot of directionality or feeling like you are in the room with any of these characters throughout its 103 minute run-time. This audio mix has no evidence of cracks or hissing of any sort and always sounds clear. It would have been suited better for a 5.1 transfer, but this was the film's original sound design and we have to respect that.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

  • Audio Commentary - This is a brand new commentary from this year by director Mike Leigh and offers a very informative and at times bizarre take on his film. He talks about making the movie and his relationships with his cast and crew a lot here. Definitely take a listen because you haven't heard anything like this.
  • Five-Minute Films (HD, 31 mins) - This is a cool little feature that showcases five of Mike Leigh's short films, all lasting five minutes each. This batch of shorts was made for a BBC tv series. These are all worth watching and a great extra. We also get an introduction by Leigh himself.
  • Mike Leigh Q&A (HD, 61 mins) - Here is an audio only extra from 1991, which is a Q&A with Mike Leigh as he discusses 'Life is Sweet'. He talks about the characters, the filming, and the script, along with his every expanding career in theater and film. I wish there was video to go with this audio.
  • Criterion Booklet - An 19 page illustrated booklet that features David Sterritt's essay on the film titled 'Life is Bitter-Sweet', along with notes abotu the film and chapter selections.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

There are no HD exclusives.

Final Thoughts

'Life is Sweet' is a great film that mixes the most dramatic moments in a family's life with some genuine comedy. It will definitely put a smile on your face as you watch the story unfold. Criterion knocks it out of the park yet again with their video presentation as it looks stellar. The audio sounds great too, but I wish there was a 5.1 audio option. There are some great extras, leaving this gem of a film highly recommended.

Technical Specs

  • BD-50 Blu-ray Disc

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.85:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH

Supplements

  • New audio commentary featuring director Mike Leigh
  • Audio recording of a 1991 interview with Leigh at the National Film Theatre in London
  • A booket featuring an essay by critic David Sterritt
  • Five Minute Films by Mike Leigh

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List Price
$39.95
Amazon
$22.49 (44%)
3rd Party
$21.13
Usually ships in 24 hours Buy Now»