Hope and heartbreak, fear and love and childhood prematurely escalated are the bones of this surprisingly pleasant film, directed by Alexandre Rockwell.
As a coming of age drama, Sweet Thing has a timeless quality that transcends decades. Starring two siblings (the real life offspring of Rockwell), who are pawns in their parent’s ugly divorce, the story which unfolds is a bittersweet representation of families, addiction and survival.
There is a reason that some kids grow up too quick, and fifteen-year-old Billie, named after Billie Holiday who she sees as her guardian angel, takes on the role of big sister/mom and dad to her younger brother Nico, who both live with their alcoholic and unreliable father, Adam (Will Patton). The children are in fact real-life siblings, which makes their performance even more poignant. Even though their relationship seems stable, Adam is erratic and destructive, playing out his insecurities on his kids. One moment in particular where he manhandles Billie to the bathroom and chops off her pride and joy hair as he thinks she looks too much like her mother, which results in Nico following suit and razoring off his curls too.
With an undercurrent of lightness, with young Nico’s obsessive admirer, the storyline zips along giving a no holds barred insight into this dysfunctional family. The commentary flows and troughs with good days and bad with their drunk dad eventually getting taken into rehab as he is deemed an unfit parent. Conveniently, that coincides with the summer break, so the kids are shipped off to the beach to spend the summer with their mother Eve (Karyn Parsons and her sleazy lover, Beaux (M.L. Josepher). Unfortunately, this is not as it seems as Beaux has no interest in being anyone’s daddy and tensions escalate with further alcohol misuse.
Even at the beach with a newfound freedom, Billie and Nico are fighting to escape from the suffocating pattern of abusive carers. Rather than stick up from her children, Eve lives in fear of the Alpha-male Beaux, and when he calls Nico a sissy and teases him, there isn’t a second thought that he should spend the day out fishing with him, in order to man up. What actually happens, we don’t see, but the outcome results in a head-to-head with mother and daughter, who gets slapped and warned not to try and ruin her life this time.
From then on, it’s the kids on their own, and the one friend they have made, Malik takes control and uses the rifle to shoot the perpetrator Beaux, and leads them on the run.
The next section of the film is rather joyous for the kids as it is their first taste of actual freedom and wild child, Malik (Jabari Watkins), leads Billie and Nico through their “outlaws and renegades” phase wild trek across Massachusetts, crossing paths with a variety of American eccentrics, angels and desperados. Whether the ending is happy, it’s up to you to decide. But the journey is something we can all learn from.
Sweet thing is out in the UK on Fri 10th September