review for Home Sweet Home on AllMovie

Home Sweet Home (1982)
by Josh Ralske review

Mike Leigh's bitterly funny Home Sweet Home is one of the talented filmmakers most incisive and heartbreaking works. Leigh gets strong performances, down to the smallest roles, creating complex and interesting characters. Harold (Tim Barker), for example, with his dumb riddles, his compulsive song lyric recitations, and his seeming obliviousness to how everyone else sees him, particularly his abusive wife, June (Su Elliot), initially seems pathetic and worthy only of our scorn, but Barker's sad, soulful performance brings surprising depth to the character. Stan (Eric Richard) is a neglectful parent and an insensitive ladies' man, but, in his clumsily half-hearted efforts to engage his daughter, he's far more sympathetic than the similar character of Johnny, the misanthrope played by David Thewlis, in Leigh's Naked. This is partly because, unlike Johnny, Stan doesn't rationalize his behavior with a nihilistic world view. He's not intentionally hurtful. At worst, he's opportunistic and immature. His dealings with two social-service workers, Melody (Frances Barber) and Dave (Lloyd Peters), are highlights of the film, as Melody's doggedly optimistic attitude, and Dave's longwinded intellectualizing play hilariously off Stan's defensive laconism. The brief but ruefully funny scene between Dave and Stan that closes the film is a brilliant distillation of Leigh's own take on the failings of the system, as Dave's own personal agenda completely overwhelms his efforts to reach his supposed client. This scene alone qualifies Home Sweet Home as a must-see film for fans of Leigh's work.