GFF 2021: Sweetheart

A family holiday at a caravan park in Dorset is the setting for teen romance Sweetheart, where the comedy emanates from a light-hearted portrayal of authentic mundanity

Film Review by Eilidh Akilade | 04 Mar 2021
  • Sweetheart
Film title: Sweetheart
Director: Marley Morrison
Starring: Nell Barlow, Jo Hartly, Ella-Rae Smith

It is against the backdrop of mildly outdated caravan decor and late evening magic shows that we see the ever-opinionated yet awkward 17-year-old AJ (Nell Barlow) fall hard in Sweetheart. On a family holiday to Dorset, AJ unexpectedly becomes infatuated with Isla (Ella-Rae Smith), an effortlessly cool and gorgeous lifeguard working at the park. This feature film debut, for both writer-director Morrison and lead Barlow, is a true delight.

With the grunge of teen angst set against British-high-street-summer pastels, the film finds its comedy in a light-hearted portrayal of authentic mundanity – primarily, those fraught family dynamics that are all too nostalgic.

But it’s also a painful watch at times. Barlow plays out AJ’s most intimate, vulnerable moments with a sensitivity and nuance that brings one back to teenagehood itself. This honesty is not solely reserved for the film’s protagonist: both AJ’s mother Tina (Jo Hartley), and Isla are granted narratives in their own right.

We’re left with some unanswered questions, some conversations not quite had. While that may make for a somewhat frustrating watch, it simply contributes to the film’s relatability; specifically, a relatability that doesn’t succumb to cliché.

Sweetheart is subtle in its narrative and in its characters – there are no grand spectacles here – but such subtlety is not to be mistaken for shallowness. Rather, it gives its viewers exactly what AJ herself wants: a little bit of space – albeit with a soft family landing.

Sweetheart has its world premiere at Glasgow Film Festival, screening 3-6 Mar – tickets here