Life Is Sweet | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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This is British writer-director Mike Leigh at his near best--that is, not quite as good as High Hopes, but still a must-see. Most of the focus here is on a dysfunctional family consisting of a compulsively cheerful mother (Alison Steadman), a pipe-dreaming father (Jim Broadbent) who works as a chef, and twin daughters, one a well-adjusted plumber (Claire Skinner), the other an anorexic-bulimic malcontent (Jane Horrocks) in a perpetual state of agitation. To round out the thematic concern with food, there's also family friend Aubrey (Timothy Spall), a rather pathetic entrepreneur who attempts to open a gourmet restaurant. As in High Hopes, Leigh boldly accords different kinds and levels of stylization to his characters--Aubrey is handled much more parodically than the others--and the volatile mixture works. What starts off as sitcom material gradually widens to encompass a tragicomic story of complex characters and subtle interactions. (Music Box, Wednesday through Thursday, December 25 through January 2)

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