The Movie Waffler New to Netflix - SWEETHEART | The Movie Waffler

New to Netflix - SWEETHEART

sweetheart review
A teen finds love while on a family holiday.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Marley Morrison

Starring: Nell Barlow, Ella-Rae Smith, Jo Hartley, Sophia Di Martino, Samuel Anderson, Tabitha Byron

sweetheart poster

Not sure there is anything worse for a teenager than the family holiday, especially the later years; that threshold era where new identities and independences are formed, fresh styles fatally cramped by the ubiquity of your family and, worst luck, your reliance upon them in a vacation context. I mean, it’s not like you can mug your parents off and meet up with your mates when you’re miles away from them, is it? Instead, you’re forced to cleave close to the folks, who tell you to ‘have fun’ and to ‘try new things’. You know, the exact sort of thing they’re completely suspicious about you doing for the other 51 weeks of the year. And yeah, I know it’s tough for parents dealing with vexed teens on a trip which they’ve saved up for, organised and hoped will bring the family together for one last adventure, but the focus in Marley Morrison’s comedy drama Sweetheart is on the former casualty, and, such is its excruciating relatability, it’s brought back some pretty raw memories. IT’S SO UNFAIR!

sweetheart review

Nell Barlow’s AJ is an earnest gay teen (the second adjective only applied here as it’s such an issue for the character herself), the type of yute whose insecurities manifest in a jejune, hard-done-by superiority. Following AJ’s suspension from school, single mum Tina (Jo Hartley) takes AJ (along with younger sister, older sister and brother-in-law) on a caravan holiday to an amazing-when-you’re-under-ten-or-over-fifty isolated coastal resort: nightmare. The uncoolest place in the world, in other words, haunted by the most unhip.

I’m unsure if Morrison deliberately based AJ’s look on Harry Enfield’s character in Kevin and Perry Go Large but the likeness is manifest. Similarly congruous with Kevin are the socially awkward interactions AJ initially makes with resident lifeguard, the willowy Isla (Ella-Rae Smith), who AJ promptly falls in love with and with whom enjoys the up/down holiday romance which forms Sweetheart’s central narrative.

sweetheart review

Sweetheart makes some neat, canny observances of teen angst, which is simultaneously the most ridiculous and devastating of experiences and given appropriately even-handed treatment here. One of the little gang AJ falls in with whitters on about flat earth conspiracies while high, with that authentically hopeless intensity kids have when they anxiously want to believe in something unconventional, as if to cock a snook at the world. It’s a similar principle to falling in love at that age, Sweetheart suggests, wherein AJ projects an ideal onto Isla, their tentative fumblings a transaction more about wanting to be in love than the genuine, hard won real thing.

However, a winning aspect of Marley’s script is how there isn’t a heavily signalled learning moment presented. Instead, the film weaves in more credible and rather lovely occasional breaks for AJ from the self-perpetuating torment of being a gay kid with a chip on the shoulder. Sweetheart is too savvy to suggest people grow up overnight, and too respectful of its audience to expect us to automatically ‘like’ its characters too, who are at times selfish, whiney and unreasonable - like most people are in the heightened circumstances of a holiday camp.

sweetheart review

Our empathy is naturally positioned with AJ, but the great Jo Hartley gives the shrewishly written mum Tina a patina of sympathy which transcends her gripey dialogue. Hartley is something. Remember her in David Brent: Life on the Road, pulling comedy pathos seemingly out of thin air in the same casual manner that the stage magician at Sweetheart’s stage show produces hankies from a hat? She is as fantastic as ever here, giving the film an awkwardly emotional core, and her spikey interchanges with her daughter a wincing resonance.

We’re familiar with cringe comedy, but Sweetheart deftly transposes to cringe drama, where it turns out that the everyday sufferance of people isn’t quite so amusing after all, thanks. And, yes, this plucky feature length debut is occasionally a bit ropey, and not quite as cute as it aspires to be, but in its sincere invocation of teen-drama you may well find a little something in your eye as this holiday comes to a close.

Sweetheart is on Netflix UK/ROI now.