The Sweet East

Talented cinematographer turned director Sean Price Williams – a regular collaborator with the Safdie Brothers and Alex Ross Perry – brings his sharp eye to this quixotic road movie starring Talia Ryder

Film Review by Carmen Paddock | 25 Mar 2024
  • The Sweet East
Film title: The Sweet East
Director: Sean Price Williams
Starring: Talia Ryder, Simon Rex, Earl Cave, Jacob Elordi, Jeremy O Harris, Ayo Edebiri, Rish Shah
Release date: 29 Mar
Certificate: 18

America is the land of opportunity – or for teen Lillian (Talia Ryder), who becomes separated from her classmates on a school trip, the land of misadventure – in this deliciously off-kilter road trip comedy. Accomplished cinematographer Sean Price Williams brings his eye for the gloriously feverish and unhinged to his feature directorial debut. 

By juxtaposing moments of frenetic comedy with a sun-dappled, soft-focus, quasi-nostalgic Americana (amplified by Lillian quickly losing her cellphone, relying on old-fashioned modes of communication and transport), the promise of the kindness of strangers walks a tightrope with the threat of their violence. Nick Pinkerton’s script floats just above topical relevance, alluding to today’s most outlandish, dangerous, and deluded without getting into socioeconomic realities. 

Ryder, magnetic throughout, sells Lillian’s confident improvisations that take her from one folly to the next. Other standouts include Ayo Edebiri as a bohemian film director and Jacob Elordi – adding purposefully bad accents to his achievements in diction – as her star.

The Sweet East is not perfect: some “edgy” slurs in the dialogue feel designed to shock rather than comment on Lillian’s (lack of) self-awareness or the fractious American identity. Additionally, jokes on celebrity culture, while amusing, feel borne of an earlier era. The closeted neo-Nazi academic (Simon Rex) avoids both pitfalls, selling genuine laughs with perfectly judged self-seriousness. His diatribe against the “European” view of the United States as a young country with no history is upturned by the film’s refusal to confuse ephemerality with innocence – marking The Sweet East as a road trip to remember. 

Released 29 Mar by Utopia; certificate 18