Stars: Nell Barlow, Jo Hartley, Ella-Rae Smith, Sophia Di Martino, Tabitha Byron, Samuel Anderson
Writer-director Marley Morrison’s feature debut is a low-key but amiable coming of age comic drama which charts a torturously familiar holiday for a squabbling family.
It focuses on AJ, a socially conscious and self-conscious seventeen-year-old, about to embark on a gap year knitting jumpers for elephants (contrived indie whimsy ahoy!), but first pressganged by her well-meaning but long-suffering mum (Hartley, excellent) into holidaying with the family in a Dorset caravan park. AJ’s communication consists of the occasional mutter from beneath a bucket hat that’s permanently glued to her head, but is more loquacious when introducing her family in the voiceover. They are AJ’s younger sister Dayna (Byron), her older heavily pregnant and catty older sister Lucy (Loki’s Di Martino, the most thinly-sketched and unsympathetic character) and Lucy’s endlessly patient and good-natured husband Steve (Anderson).
When A.J meets the effervescent and beautiful lifeguard Ella (Smith) things begins to look up although their courtship throws up some awkward moments.
The rendering of holiday camp life is memorably drab and overcast and likely to chime even louder with audiences after an enforced year of staycations, and AJ’s complete lack of enthusiasm for her surroundings contrasts amusingly with her little sister’s constant amazed delight. Barlow’s performance is internalised but attentive and wryly amusing and plaudits to Morrison’s script for making AJ’s sexuality incidental to the plot, while not worrying about making her particularly sympathetic, even if it’s never really conveyed what idealised dream girl Ella sees in her.
Sweetheart is released 24th September
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