Sweet Thing: Review. By Alif Majeed.
Alexandre Rockwell was one of the most exciting filmmakers to come out of the stable of the young indie movie brats of the ’90s. Even though his first movie, In the Soup, had announced his arrival as a significant force in the indie cinema movement, he sadly did not live up to his reputation. Of the four upcoming directors of the era to do a segment in the anthology segment Four Rooms, it is a tragedy that he and Allison Anders fell off the bandwagon while Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino became major players in Hollywood. Even though all of them had really brilliant starts to their careers around the same time.
So I was happy when I heard that his latest movie got some pretty great reviews and was heralded as a return to form for him. But after I watched the movie, what I came out with were mixed emotions. Sweet Thing is the best he offered in a long while, but it did not live up to the hype for me on a personal level.
A large part of it is because of the predictability of the plot. It involves two children Billie and Nico, who are pretty much left to fend for themselves throughout the movie after their father, Adam (a terrific Will Patton, who we need to see more often on screen), has to go to rehab. Their mom quickly moves on to her new boyfriend, leaving them to fend for themselves constantly. After a violent altercation with the boyfriend, they run off with a fellow stowaway Malik (Jabari Watkins), and from there, the movie follows their adventures on the road and the people they meet.
It follows a straight line where you can see what the characters are and will do next. The father, though well-intentioned, will make it worse for the kids with his constant drunken bouts. You can figure out that the boyfriend, who at first seems like a cool guy to hang out with, will eventually turn out to be this horrible monster who would try to prey on the kids. A fact phoned in from a mile away. Even the eventual fate of the children after they become stowaways and their interaction with different people on the way has an inevitable eventuality to it.
What was beautiful about the movie though is the lead actors. Even when I was put off by the constant barrage of tragedies that seemed to keep on befalling the kids, the performances undoubtfully will disturb you by how effective they are. The film is a family affair with Rockwell directing his real-life children Lana and Nico, and they are lovely. They act like they have known each other for years and feel like they would, to any extent, to protect themselves from the cruelties they come across. They are great to watch together on screen and thankfully are the focus of the movie for the majority of the movie.
The person I was also most affected by was the character of the mom Eve (again Rockwell’s real-life wife, Karyn Parsons). Two scenes involving her really stand out. Her reaction to her daughter’s accusation of the boyfriend’s deviant behavior is a brilliant character moment and sadly chilling. It’s a scene that has shown up in countless abusive boyfriend movies, but she sells her desperation at clinging selfishly to her happiness even at the expense of throwing the kids under the bus. Another scene where she is remarkable is when Beaux (the boyfriend) keeps on insulting her in front of her muted and defenseless children while trying to grab on to whatever little dignity she has left when there is absolutely none. These beautiful character moments make a tremendous impact and stay with you once you are done with the movie.
I would be happy if this movie reinvigorates Rockwell’s career and opens more opportunities for him. The predictable storyline makes it hard to believe that this is an absolute return to form for Rockwell, though he is way better than he ever was in a long time.
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