Sometimes there are films that just take you by surprise. Yes, you might have heard about them and wanted to see them, but once you watch them, they somehow stay with you long after they are over. That sentiment can be a good or bad one really, depending on the film and if you enjoyed it or not. Sweetheart was one of those films for me. A film that I had anticipated prior to Inside Out starting but didn’t think much of it. And then, I watched it on the first day of the Festival and I have not been able to stop thinking about it ever since.
Sweetheart is about A.J. (Nell Barlow), a socially awkward teen, who has just arrived at a coastal holiday park with her mom, her two sisters, and her older sister’s boyfriend. Their crime? Being painfully normal and having little to no understanding of how hard it is to be A.J. As she is dragged from beach day to magic show to family dinner, A.J.’s only respite is the occasional glimpse of Isla (Ella-Rae Smith), the cute lifeguard patrolling the park. When Isla starts paying attention to A.J., A.J. has to deal with the potential of having her summer dreams come true.
Sweetheart isn’t perfect, it’s often messy and all over the place. And yet, it works. What makes it works is the fact that we are told this story from A.J.’s perspective, we see the world like we see it, we hear her narration, everything we see is seen from A.J.’s perspective, we see the world like she does. It doesn’t always work and sometimes it’s all over the place but the thing is, that is exactly what being a teenager is. Being all over the place is part of the course when you are a teenager and A.J. might just be the definition of that idea. She is angsty, she is trying to figure herself out at the expense of others, she doesn’t know what she truly wants. It’s messy but it’s also so real to life.
Familiarity is the best word to describe how I felt while watching this film. Sometimes, A.J. reminded me so much of a younger version of myself. One who just wanted to be allowed to be herself and would do what she wanted in order to accomplish that. The relationships within the film brought me back to the days of living at home and how my mother wanted to connect with me so much and yet, I refused to let her. Sweetheart might present itself as a love story but it is so much more. It’s about growing up, about finding yourself, accepting yourself but also about a family.
The family part of the film is what works the best. Yes, the relationship between Isla and A.J. is great and propels the film a lot, but the family dynamic is what makes this film stand apart. A.J. is not what her mother expects and wants her to be, her sisters are closer to the reality she has of what her daughters should be. It’s a journey that we are brought on, the two of them are the base of everything. Their relationship is the center piece of Sweetheart without it, the film just fails. This is a mother and daughter film, a film where a mother and daughter must learn to accept each other for who they are and not who they want the other to be. It’s a simple concept but it works, works more then the film really knows and more time should have been spent on that dynamic.
And then, there’s A.J. and Isla’s relationship. A relationship that just felt a bit too close to home, the relationship you want and hope to have and yet, by the end, it was just a moment in time, a moment that seems so important in the moment, one that maybe you will revisit in time and leave the door open and yet, with time and distance, will just be a memory. Both looking for something in that moment and find it with each other, a summer fling that is also more but never becomes it. It’s a concept that brings me back to those summer vacation that I took as a teenager and still look back on. And that is what this film does so well, is to bring you back to that moment in time, to leave you wondering about your past more then you would ever want.
Sweetheart isn’t perfect, no films is in truth, but it’s one that even with all its faults you can forgive it. A homage to that time of our lives where we are trying to discover ourself and hope that we will one day be better. It’s a film that just brings you back to those forgotten moments and makes you feel nostalgic. Nostalgic for a past that defined who you are today, a past that, even if we don’t want it, is part of us.