Written & Directed by: #MarleyMorrison
As part of BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival 2021
We’ve all had that holiday that wasn’t quite what we wanted. Sweetheart captures the tackiness of run-down holiday parks perfectly. All of the amateurish shows, the bland conversations, and that feeling of unwanted disconnect as you’re dragged away somewhere you don’t want to be. AJ (Nell Barlow) doesn’t want to be what’s considered “normal,” she’s socially awkward and intelligent, with plans of helping the environment in some way, but she’s also lesbian and that’s just another thing to navigate. When she meets Isla (Ella-Rae Smith), a lifeguard at the park, she’s swept off her feet into a dizzying spin of unexpected love and heartbreak.
Though the film hits a few patchy spots where the pacing slows up, the detail in the characters makes up for it. It’s a well-rounded story with plenty of good performances, especially from Barlow who takes a deep step into AJ’s shoes. She adds impressive depth to the character, finding all her traits and a personality that flows with a relatable likeness. Supporting her is an array of seemingly plain roles that eventually develop as the film wraps up. AJ’s family surrounding her add conflict, but slowly show understanding and care. Samuel Anderson in particular is a joy to have in scenes, and Jo Hartley’s performance as a struggling mother takes the scenic route before landing on a note that feels satisfying enough.
Sweetheart never leaves the holiday park it’s set in; there’s a sense of seclusion from the rest of the world, and AJ feels that. It’s a tough week, but she gets through it — with bruises and aches from encounters with Isla. Ella-Rae Smith’s likeable role in the film is important but minuscule. Sure, there are key scenes where the both of them talk and flirt and explore who they are, but Isla’s affect on AJ as she goes back to her family for the typical meal or disco is larger than her physical presence. This is a film that places all its focus on a developing mind. We watch someone experience things and we see how it changes them. For that reason, Sweetheart isn’t for everyone. It is quite drawn out and it does make you want to pause for a breather, but that is not dissimilar from real life.
A mostly entertaining watch; Sweetheart prompts understanding and it does so through the relatable device of a family holiday. There are some laughs but there’s also an offering of genuine contemplation and realisation. AJ explores her sexuality, what that means to her family and what that means to her; and in doing so, serves up a fairly new coming-of-age story.
BFI Flare runs from March 17th - 28th, for more info visit: