The Movie Waffler New Release Review - THE SWEET EAST | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - THE SWEET EAST

The Sweet East review
A teenage girl embarks on a series of misadventures when she skips out on a school trip.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Sean Price Williams

Starring: Talia Ryder, Earl Cave, Simon Rex, Ayo Edebiri, Jeremy O. Harris, Jacob Elordi, Rish Shah

The Sweet East poster

The Sweet East comes loaded with American indie cinema cred. It's the directorial debut of cinematographer Sean Price Williams, whose distinctively granular images have graced the films of the Safdies, Alex Ross Perry and Abel Ferrara. It's produced by the aforementioned Perry. It's the first screenplay of firebrand film critic Nick Pinkerton. Its lead is Talia Ryder of Never Rarely Sometimes Always fame. You won't be surprised to learn that it's shot on 16mm film.

There's a popular online meme involving a photograph of a young man talking in the ear of a clearly disinterested young woman. The Sweet East is something of a feature length adaptation of said meme, with Ryder in the position of the bored young woman. She plays Lillian, a high schooler whose class heads off to Washington D.C. for a school trip. While she and her classmates are dining at a pizzeria, a lunatic enters the establishment with a machine gun, demanding the proprietors admit to running a child sex ring in the basement, ala the infamous "pizzagate" conspiracy theory. The twist here is that it's hinted that there really is a child sex ring in the basement. As Lillian is guided to safety by a young punk, Caleb (Earl Cave), through a labyrinthine series of subterranean corridors littered with children's toys, he remarks how it seemed bigger when he was a kid.

The Sweet East review

This is an early indication that The Sweet East isn't interested in pandering to any acceptable liberal sensibilities. The right wing conspiracy around child sex trafficking is something we're supposed to frown at, so the idea of constructing a joke out of the inconceivable notion that there might be a kernel of truth in the theory is likely to ruffle many an ideologically insecure feather. The worst comedy punches down, but a lot of terrible comedy punches up because it's an equally easy target. The best comedy comes from those who aren't afraid to punch sideways, who can mock their own circles.

The following scenes take potshots at left-wing disrupters via Caleb, who calls himself an "artivist" and babbles on incessantly about how he incorporates his art into his activism. Mostly it seems he wants to get into Lillian's pants, but when she's exposed to his pierced penis she's having none of it.

The Sweet East review

The Sweet East proves itself an equal opportunities offender when Lillian skips out on her new lefty friends and wanders into a Neo-Nazi gathering. There she meets Lawrence (Simon Rex), a Jordan Peterson-esque professor who bemoans how today's white supremacist movement fails to attract the best class of white people. Lawrence clearly wants to get into Lillian's pants too, but his conservative ideology forbids him from acting on such desires. It's in this section that The Sweet East really leans into the aforementioned meme, as Lawrence takes Lillian into his home and spends weeks lecturing her on history as she stares vacantly into space.

Williams' film is structured somewhat like those many 1970s softcore sexploitation movies in which an attractive young heroine skips from one misadventure to another, getting laid several times along the way. The joke here is that Lillian never gets laid, even when she clearly wants to. Everyone she meets – whether it's left wing or right wing whackos, pretentious filmmakers or Islamist terrorists – spends their time in her presence lecturing her with reams of pseudo intellectual nonsense in a condescending attempt to seduce her with their perceived intellectual superiority. The film posits that people have stopped fucking today because they're so committed to art and activism that all the blood goes to their heads rather than their genitals. It's a misanthropic view that could easily be dismissed as the product of an edgelord were there not a grain of truth to it all.

The Sweet East review

Richard Hell famously sang of boomers as "The Blank Generation." Through the listless Lillian, who rolls her eyes at every artistic or political endeavour she encounters, The Sweet East suggests it's a label that might better suit Gen Z. But with so much white noise in today's cultural discourse, who can blame any young woman who decides to empty their head and retreat from the pseudo sincerity of those who use art and activism for the age old purpose of getting into her pants? In a late scene Lillian is compelled to break out in a laughing fit as yet another man starts rambling on. She's heard it all before. By the age of 17, most girls have.

The Sweet East
 is in UK cinemas from March 29th.

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