Timothy Spall is in a tragically childless marriage. His sister (Blethyn) is living a life of grime with her moody daughter. Hortense (Jean-Baptiste), a young black woman, is searching for her birth mother. Gradually, long kept family secrets are revelaed as the characters learn to trust and help one another.
Many who saw Mike Leigh's last film, Naked, would have stumbled out into the street in shock. With this, Leigh returns to the familiar hearth of bittersweet suburban comedy, Life Is Sweet and Timothy Spall. The result is hilarious, as touching a film as any Leigh has made.
This is the story of people who were once connected by birth but are currently, for a variety of reasons, estranged. Maurice (Spall) is a decent, well-meaning portrait photographer who has worked hard to provide his fastidious wife Monica (Logan) with a large, comfortable home. For all their gadgets and accoutrements, they badly want children.
In their upward climb, they have neglected Maurice's older sister Cynthia (Blethyn), a dowdy, pinched-faced worrier who is stuck in her cluttered terraced house with an outrageously moody 21-year-old daughter Roxanne (newcomer Claire Rushbrook).
As Maurice and Monica choose from a scintillating range of pre-cooked freezer fare, Cynthia and Roxanne spend their evenings smoking fags and scowling bitterly at their fate.
Meanwhile, oblivious to them all, an adopted young black woman, Hortense (the brilliant Marianne Jean-Baptiste), is scouring London for her real mother - who, she learns to her shock, is white. The convergence of these five characters is gradual, beset by hitches, red herrings and more questions than answers.
The last-reel pathos of Life Is Sweet is present here from the start; the cringe-inducing social gatherings - a Leigh speciality - are worthy of his hands-over-eyes classic Bleak Moments. Belly-laughs are frequent, as are some terrific running gags (Spall's "relaxing" spiel to his customers; Roxanne's awesomely seedy boyfriend played to perfection by Lee Ross).
Flush with superb dialogue and interesting sub-plots, this uses every minute of its lengthy running time to surprise and to balance Blethyn's poignant, close-to-tears performance against those of the loveable Spall and the coolly troubled Logan. It is one of the most ambivalent and riveting comedy-dramas of recent times.
Superbly observed, deeply touching comedy drama. These are ordinary people leaving ordinary lives in this quite extraordinary film.