Cynical and introverted 17-year-old AJ (newcomer Nell Barlow) is dragged to a holiday park with her frustratingly chirpy mother (Jo Hartley) and younger sister (Tabitha Byron), alongside pregnant older sibling Lucy (Sophia Di Martino) and her partner Steve (Samuel Anderson). She dreads the thought of spending quality time with her family; however, the holiday looks to become a lot more interesting when she meets outgoing, free-spirited lifeguard Isla (Ella-Rae Smith). The pair quickly spark a friendship, but the protagonist hopes their relationship will blossom into something more.
The feature debut from writer-director Marley Morrison, Sweetheart is an endearing and enjoyably off-beat coming-of-age tale. The script aches with heart and honesty, though it plays things a little too safe. It’s unable to break free from genre conventions and consequently doesn’t offer much in the way of what audiences haven’t seen before.
AJ’s pessimistic inner monologue is the window into her character. It’s self-deprecating and intelligently humorous in showing a young person confused about their identity and where (and how) they fit in with the world. The protagonist is painfully honest about her situation, although she rarely vocalises these thoughts to anyone else. This is where this movie succeeds the most. Its characters and their interactions feel completely genuine; the melodrama is stripped away to reveal people who’re just trying to do their best – even if some of their traits are exaggerated for comic effect. The lead may act like any other angsty teen, but viewers completely understand the headspace she’s in, which makes all the difference.
This flick stumbles, however, when it treads too closely to pre-existing conventions. Every high and low of AJ and Isla’s relationship comes as no surprise to anyone who’s seen an indie coming-of-age film before. Neither does the turbulent mother-daughter bond as the family members fiercely butt heads throughout. Given Morrison’s talent for creating authentic characters, it comes as a disappointment that the script leaves no room for any risks. As entertaining and well-made as the feature is, there’s nothing that stands out about it enough to elevate it above its peers.
Morrison proves a rising talent to look out for with Sweetheart. The frustration is that this debut reveals the director is capable of doing far more than what’s here.
Sweetheart is released in select cinemas on 24th September 2021.
Watch the trailer for Sweetheart here: