A socially awkward, environmentally conscious teenager named AJ is dragged to a coastal holiday park by her painfully ‘normal’ family, where she becomes unexpectedly captivated by a chlorine smelling, sun-loving lifeguard named Isla.

Sweetheart’ is a coming of age drama from first time feature director Marley Morrison, about a teenage girl who gets dragged to a caravan park on holiday with her mum, her pregnant older sister and partner and her much younger sister. That girl is AJ (or Alice), a socially awkward 17 year old who can’t imagine anything worse than spending time with her family, let alone in the enclosed environment of a small caravan. It may come as no surprise that I was a big fan of ‘Sweetheart’, given my love for the coming of age genre, and this is a particularly good one with a compelling narrative, relatable characters and genuine pathos as the story unfolds.

AJ (Nell Barlow) looks and acts like a cross between Kevin & Perry, full of teenage angst and anger and she initially comes across as a closed book. That all changes when she encounters Isla (Ella-Rae Smith), an attractive lifeguard, and although both are initially unsure of each other’s sexuality, an attraction starts to form that sparks life in both of them. Their holiday romance is played out to some terrific musical choices, namely the aptly named ‘Cigarettes After Sex’ which soundtracks one such encounter. Barlow does a good job of showing AJ starting to wrestle with her feelings as she begins to lose the battle to keep her emotions internalised and I felt her portrayal was believably raw, making this awkward character easy to root for.

One of the things I really liked about ‘Sweetheart’ was its setting, which I think encapsulates the experience of growing up in a nutshell. When AJ (Nell Barlow) was younger she spent many happy holidays here, but she’s no longer that young girl and the place has lost its magic over the years. It plays well with the nostalgia of going to a place that you once loved but have now grown out of, and parents that perhaps aren’t attuned to how you’re no longer the little person that you once were. I thought Jo Hartley, who plays AJ’s mother, was particularly excellent as someone who is also guarding their true feelings and is perhaps not ready to quite accept that her family is growing up. I really liked that ‘Sweetheart’ provided a chance for Hartley (and Sophia Di Martino as AJ’s obnoxious, pregnant older sister) to show their softer, more caring sides at key moments, adding additional layers to the movie as a whole.

Any good coming of age movie has to depict the trials and tribulations of growing up and I thought ‘Sweetheart’ did it really well, and I was very taken by this film. Funny, messy and an emotional rollercoaster, ‘Sweetheart’ is an excellent movie, well worth seeking out.

Rating: 4/5

Directed By: Marley Morrison

Starring: Nell Barlow, Jo Hartley, Ella-Rae Smith, Sophia Di Martino, Samuel Anderson, Tabitha Byron, Steffan Cennydd, William Andrews and Spike Fearn


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