A big film made on a tiny budget, here’s our review of Sweetheart, that’s now playing in UK cinemas – and it’s well, well worth seeking out.
AJ (Nell Barlow) doesn’t want to go on holiday. She most definitely doesn’t want to go on holiday with her mum and little sister. Or her heavily pregnant older sister and her perfect fireman boyfriend. AJ just wants to be left alone.
Many of us have been in those awkward teenage years where you feel like an adult, but your family can only see you as a child. With her new film Sweetheart, director Marley Morrison captures the painful and bittersweet angst of being a teenager, of accepting yourself and discovering first love, perfectly encapsulated in this hilarious film.
While stuck in holiday park hell with a family that just doesn’t understand her, AJ meets Isla, a confident and exciting young lifeguard with whom she shares an instant attraction. Intense close ups of small details overwhelm the screen, as we fall under her spell as deeply as AJ does. Both Nell Barlow and Ella-Rae Smith have a natural on-screen chemistry and under Morrison’s steady direction are able to convey intense emotions with averted glances and tight camera shots in small locations. Who knew caravans could be so romantic?
Though the romance between the two young women is integral to the plot, Sweetheart excels with its look at the struggles of growing up and accepting yourself, rather than focussing on the love story. We see AJ and her mum both struggle with AJ’s depression and anxiety, and they manifest these worries into discussions of her sexuality and physical appearance. Jo Hartley gives a winning performance as the tired single mother who can’t help but wonder where her child has gone, whilst also saying all the wrong things.
But then Sweetheart boasts an amazing ensemble cast who delight with their dialogue delivery and timing. Dropping scathing remarks and perfect one-liners throughout, it’s Sophia Di Martino and Samuel Anderson as Lucy and Steve that nearly steal the show. Steve’s loving acceptance of AJ is heart-warming in particular. The newcomer to the family, he sees her as an equal and peer, trying to remind her this is her holiday too and she can have fun. His silent suffering at the hands of Di Martino’s heavily pregnant Lucy provides comic relief throughout and the pair are a delight on the screen. Di Martino equally brings a measured level of clarity to the fractured relationship of AJ and mum Tina, acting as the heart of the family.
It’s rare to get an LGBTQ+ coming of age film that doesn’t focus on the trauma of coming out itself, but here Morrison excels. There are plenty of cringe-inducing moments, but the trauma is firmly cemented in the horrors of growing up, making Sweetheart instantly relatable for anyone who has ever been a teenager trapped in a holiday park.
Delightful dialogue, witty observations and a winning cast make Sweetheart a film definitely worth seeking out.
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