1990’s Life is Sweet is generally considered - when it’s considered at all - one of the lesser lights in writer/director Mike Leigh’s constellation of films. The work’s underwhelming reputation was aided and abetted by the fact that for the last 20 years it’s been damn hard to see. With no official North American rental release, a purchase only, on demand DVD burn from Amazon has been the film’s only means of dissemination for much of the world. Fortunately, Criterion has stepped in to right this injustice with a gorgeous new Blu-ray edition, and life is once again sweet for the legions of Leigh.
In fact, Life is Sweet is the prototypical Mike Leigh film, embodying all that is right and good about the early phase of the director’s career. Before he branched into darker themes and period pieces, Leigh made his name with sharply observed comedies depicting blandly ordinary working class Brits getting on with their lives, complete with tender hopes and twinkly dreams undashed by Thatcher’s experiments in Social Darwinism. Leigh’s two films from 1988, High Hopes and the made-for-TV The Short and Curlies, used lightness and eccentricity to celebrate the daily heroism of the masses and to individualize the tough slog faced by the young and unremarkable.