BFI Flare Review: Sweetheart

DIRECTED BY

Marley Morrison

STARRING

Nell Barlow, Ella-Rae Smith, Jo Hartley, Sophia Di Martino, Samuel Anderson, Tabitha Byron, Steffan Cennydd, Spike Fearn, William Andrews, Anna Antoniades and Celeste De Veazey

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SYNOPSIS

A socially awkward, environmentally conscious teenager named AJ is dragged to a coastal holiday park by her painfully ‘normal’ family, where she becomes unexpectedly captivated by a chlorine smelling, sun-loving lifeguard named Isla.

AJ is dragged by her oh-so-annoying family on holiday at the seaside, which promises to be the worst week of her life until a chance meeting with resident lifeguard Isla changes her perspective.

Sweetheart is written and directed by Marley Morrison, marking her directorial feature debut. The film focuses on socially awkward seventeen-year-old AJ, who is dragged by her mother to the holiday caravan park site at the seaside, where they’re joined by her sister Lucy and her partner Steve. When she discovers that the campsite doesn’t even have Wi-Fi, AJ fears that it will become the worst week of her life. However, a chance encounter with resident lifeguard Isla changes AJ’s perspective, such as being stuck with no means of escape isn’t so bad when there is the chance that she could fall in love for the first time.

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One of the aspects that really worked for me in Morrison’s debut is how she captives the holiday site life as well as the awkwardness of being a teenager, especially when it feels being dragged to a place against your will that you feel that you’ve completely outgrown. I grew up during my childhood/teenage years being spent on caravan parks during the summer so there was a lot that I could relate to with the story as well as what the protagonist goes through, between conflict with a parental figure, having to deal with an other sibling that is an emotional manipulator, to the awkwardness of first love. It’s the cringe factor in the scenes in which AJ tries to interact with Isla and her circle of friends at the park that provides a good number of the comedic moments, especially in the way that AJ responds to Ethan about his flat earth theory.

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While the story may feel familiar, Morrison puts a lot of nuance and delicate touches to the story, between the interactions of AJ and Isla, with AJ being drawn to her yet her mind running with the assumption of her being that attractive and confident that she has to be heterosexual, yet as it progresses we see how Isla helps AJ come out of her shell a bit more whilst being herself, to AJ and her mother and sister being accepting of her sexuality yet try to have her change pieces of her that are important to her (i.e. dress style). It’s a well directed and written by Morrison, with Nell Barlow giving a potentially breakout performance as AJ, with some of her comedic delivery of certain lines landing really well and the films more dramatic moments she shows a certain vulnerability that would break your heart. The performances of Jo Hartley and Sophia Di Martino are also good here as mother Tina and sister Lucy, and I also really liked Samuel Anderson’s performance as Steve, Lucy’s partner who at least not only tries to understand AJ, but listen to her. Ella-Rae Smith also gives a good performance as Isla, a person who you feel has herself figured out but may just be as confused about where she’s going as AJ does.

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VERDICT

Sweetheart is a sweet film and makes an impressionable directorial feature debut from Marley Morrison with a memorable performance from Nell Barlow.

★★★