Arriving on digital home video to buy this week, is the British LGBTQ+ coming-of-age comedy-drama, Sweetheart. The movie – written and directed by Marley Morrison – stars Nell Barlow, Jo Hartley, Ella-Rae Smith, and Sophia Di Martino, and tells the story of AJ – a teenager who finds romance at a caravan park, when she is begrudgingly dragged on a family holiday by her mum.
In the movie, AJ is a 17-year-old Brit, navigating her way through adolescence. She’s reached the age where she will soon have to make decisions about her future, but in the meantime, she is very clear on one thing in particular: She does not want to spend her summer days at a caravan park with her family.
In fact, AJ would much rather jump forward in time, so she can achieve her goal of moving to Indonesia, to knit jumpers for elephants. Either that, or simply spend her time surrounded by people who don’t pass comments on her appearance or the direction of her life – or lack thereof.
But things change for AJ, when she meets Isla – a lifeguard at the park’s outdoor swimming pool. AJ instantly finds herself attracted to Isla, and jumps at the opportunity to attend a late-night gathering between Isla and her friends.
From here, a friendship develops between the pair, and AJ and Isla grow closer. But as their friendship moves into new territory, AJ finds herself out of her depth, leading to mixed emotions that spill out into other areas of her life.
Now, every once in a while, a teen drama will come along that perfectly encapsulates the difficulties of moving from childhood into adulthood, and Sweetheart is exactly one of those movies. The film captures the moment in time when life is all very confusing; when adults seem to be making far too many decisions; and when parents believe spending time at a holiday camp is in the best interests of their teenage children.
For the record, it’s not in their best interests. Parents take note: When your kids reach a certain age, don’t be dragging them off to Butlin’s, Pontins, or any other holiday park they really don’t want to go to.
But I digress…
Sweetheart is a movie which throws a spotlight on all the trials and tribulations of transitioning into adulthood, and it does it so very, very well. It is a film loaded with angst and conflict, but also love, heart, and understanding.
What’s great about Sweetheart is this is a film about a gay teen, but it is not specifically about ‘being’ a gay teen. The issues that AJ faces are largely centred around her own internal conflicts; so, while the movie does focus on her sexuality, and this opens up story beats to explore on screen, it also looks at her fractious relationship with her family (specifically her mother), as well as her own frustrations and self-doubt.
This is a story about a person who feels conflicted, angry, and frustrated with the world, but is not entirely sure why. In short: AJ is a regular teen, working her way through all the highs and lows of this period of life, just like everyone else.
It’s been a while since I was a teenager, or since I was forced to go to a holiday camp against my will (it happened), but I remember it well. The feelings and emotions of doing something you really don’t want to do, and being helpless about the changes you’re going through at this point in your life, feel very intense and unmanageable, and they are perfectly laid out in this picture.
This is a movie which has been written and directed by someone who completely understands this specific point in time. They are more than familiar with the pressure of being a confused teen and how these feelings and reactions impact those around them.
I always look at being a teenager as being trapped in a bottle and at some point, in order to move into adulthood, you have to exit through the neck. For a very brief period, your whole world suddenly gets constricted, and more intense, until you can pass through this obstacle.
That’s what the story in this movie feels like. AJ is on a journey up through that bottle neck, and everything that she is struggling with is suddenly all around her, and becoming overwhelming.
Of course, as with any coming-of-age drama she will come out the other end, but the journey takes time. It’s difficult, it’s not without problems, and it is uncomfortable.
But one thing this movie isn’t, is uncomfortable for the audience. This is a great little film, and one backed by a good soundtrack, strong writing, and an excellent cast.
Nell Barlow and Jo Hartley are particularly good as AJ and her mother, and the pair share some emotional scenes together. They make every moment feel so real, and that’s important for the strength of the story.
While this film is very much about AJ’s journey, Tina plays a significant role, and that doesn’t get lost in the mix. AJ’s experience of growing up is perfectly detailed, but there’s plenty of room for Tina to showcase her feelings too, as she comes to the realisation her daughter is moving further away from her.
Ultimately this whole picture is about growth, understanding, and re-establishing relationships. All of it is told with care, with focus, and with some well-placed humour to help lighten the load.
Should you watch this movie if you’re not a teen? Yes, because it is a good film; however, if you are a teen, then you will possibly get even more out of it. The story being told here will connect quite strongly with those who are moving into adolescence, and with a voice that speaks a similar language.
As for those of us who have moved beyond the teenage years, the film has a certain charm, that will momentarily whisk you back to yesteryear. You’ll reconnect with those confusing days of old, and be able to see things from a new perspective.
Sweetheart is good. Regardless of your age, give it your time.