Whether you’re completely lost or simply taking the scenic route, coming-of-age stories tend to be just as much about the journey as their destination. Though it may not stray too far off a well-beaten track, Marley Morrison’s feature debut Sweetheart is a sure-fire crowd pleaser that showcases a young filmmaker and cast with real promise.
Sweetheart opens with A.J. (Nell Barlow), her mum, Tina (Jo Hartley), and younger sister Dayna (Tabitha Byron) taking a circuitous route from Dunstable to the Dorset coast. A seaside caravan park may not be everyone’s idea of a great summer getaway and A.J. is beyond livid. Headphones firmly in, hidden beneath a flowery fisherman’s hat and behind glowing orange sunglasses, the seventeen-year-old’s Noel Gallagher-inspired get up shows a teenager not afraid to be herself.
But does A.J. know who she is, really? Her moody, swaggering irritation at pretty much everything – “Why is life so fucking predictable?!” – isn’t too far removed from the gobby Oasis front man either, as she confronts the prospect of a week stuck in a trailer with the family. Heavily pregnant, perfect older sister Lucy (Sophia Di Martino) and her doting boyfriend, Steve (Samuel Anderson), are also joining the happy campers. Morrison’s script is at its best when in A.J.’s head. Her inner voice is more often than not at odds with what is verbalised – whether that’s antagonising her mum, or wanting to impress the wonderful Isla (Ella-Rae Smith) without sounding a total knob. We’ve all been there.
“I wonder what she smiles like,” A.J. muses, looking at a picture of the beautiful lifeguard on the wall of the laundrette before she appears, as if by magic. Their machine at home has broken down, so washing is first on the order of play. Not necessarily the best way to hit it off with someone you’ve taken an instant shine to, but little slice-of-life everyday details like these make up Sweetheart’s fabric. Steve may be a little under the thumb, but to begin with he’s A.J.’s only real confidant. Feeling a little the worse for wear after a first night of over-indulgence, she is met with a cup of tea from him but something less than disgust by mum and Lucy.
Seeing her as either anti-social, self-obsessed or just plain obnoxious, neither seem to want to take the time to really find out what daughter number two is going through. And that’s a two-way street. The reasons for her parents’ – apparently recent – split takes it toll on A.J., just as it does Tina, who simply wanted a nice week away with the family before the new addition arrives. There’s a lot of love amid a little too much booze, words uttered in anger and the fear of acting on impulse, making for a momentous few days. But if not now, when? A week’s holiday in Dorset may not have been such a terrible idea, after all.
The 2021 Glasgow Film Festival takes place between the 24 February to 7 March. You can follow CineVue’s coverage here.
Matthew Anderson | @MattAndo63