Sweetheart tells the story of AJ (Nell Barlow), a teenager who has been forced to come on a family caravan holiday with their mother (Jo Hartley), younger sister Dayna (Tabitha Byron), older sister Lucy (Sophia Di Martino) and Lucy’s partner Steve (Samuel Anderson). What unfolds is a coming of age story that seems to have been left out of the quintessential British era of the likes of Angus Thongs and Perfect Snogging or Bend it Like Beckham, but nonetheless should be placed within the same rank of top tier British comedy.
This film will grow on you exponentially as the narrative and character dynamics unfold. The awkward manoeuvres by the protagonist AJ interspersed with their opposing voice over laces the film with this infectiously endearing humour. The subtle subtext introduced in AJ and Isla’s (Ella-Rae Smith) opening conversation subtly alludes to queer culture in a way that in its recognition will make you feel seen. The sensitivity in the writing, the extreme care that has been taken to construct these characters authentically ingrains the film with a love that has been exceptionally crafted by first time writer/director Marley Morrison.
The family dynamics are so relatable, the confusion over wanting to identify as something that isn’t typical or a gender expression that is not formulaic is met refreshingly, not with hate, but rather ignorance. And how can we blame Aj’s mother for being ignorant when gay culture is something that is still not discussed in the mainstream? It is with films like this being made, and when more films like them are made, that this societal gap will hopefully close.
AJ’s relationship with their sister, Lucy, is hilarious. The balance that sisters manage to hold of being in equal amounts irritated and fiercely protective over each other are portrayed in authentic measure, and the payoff is a comedy duo that we don’t often get to showcase on the big screen. If any line was going to convey this it would be when Lucy says to AJ: “you need to tell me what you’ve taken so that if you die in your sleep I can tell the doctors”.
At times excruciating, watching AJ navigate their insecurities while equally trying to navigate their attraction is as cringey as it is relatable. In a year of Lockdown, where social interactions, or more importantly in this case, romantic connections, have been few and far between, if you want to relive the excruciating awkwardness of liking someone new, this film is it.
We watch films to learn things about the world. To hear someone else’s perspective. To see something new. And, if we’re lucky, to learn something about ourselves too. This is the film I should have seen at fifteen. What a shame that I didn’t, but equally, thank God I’ve seen it now.
If you too were robbed of the Queer coming of age film, this is it.
The 35th BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival ran from Wednesday 17th March to Sunday 28th March 2021, find out more here.