Sweetie (Criterion Collection)
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Though she followed it with a string of brilliant films, Jane Campion will always be remembered for her stunning debut feature, Sweetie. Campion focuses her askew lens on the hazardous relationship between the buttoned-down, superstitious Kay and her rampaging, devil-may-care sister, "Sweetie," and by extension, their entire family's profoundly rotten roots. A feast of quirky photography and captivating, idiosyncratic characters, Sweetie heralded the emergence of this enormously gifted director as well as the breakthrough of Australian cinema which would take international film by storm in the Nineties.
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"Sweetie" is a film that really explores the notion of family. As the titular character, Sweetie is a powerful presence whose very existence has crippled her family and, in many ways, held them hostage. Primarily, we see things through Sweetie's sister Kay and I love that the film introduces us to the peculiarities of Kay without explanation. Then when Sweetie arrives on the scene, things start to become very clear as the family dynamic takes the foreground.
I consider "Sweetie" a comedy, but I'm not sure everyone would agree. But then, I have a bit of a sick sense of humor. Certainly there are many laughs to be had in the film--if only uncomfortable ones. But, make no mistake, there is also genuine and vivid emotional turmoil. The films success is that it balances these elements so well--and, in fact, that brings a bold realism and resonance to the proceedings.
The film is shot beautifully, and always slightly askew (which is perfect for the subject matter). The performances are vivid. Karen Colston is great as Kay, and you won't soon forget Lemon as Sweetie. And as odd as the film is, it will stay with you. And you just might recognize elements of your own family dynamic within the excesses presented! KGHarris, 9/06.
'Sweetie' is an odd film. Mostly, it's an examination of what it means to be an individual--inside of and outside of the repetitive struggles of family dramas--and the perils and joys of exclusion and elitism. Campion uses her sharp wit to draw blood, and without the comforts of a privileged moral voice (e.g. the competent parent or maternal sufferer of most family dramas), the humor can seem a little mean-spirited at times. But 'Sweetie' tempers its alienated perspective with moments of grace that are as terrifying, joyful and sublime as the dry open spaces of its Australian landscape.
Moving the viewer through a fractured world of beautiful and unsettling images, Sweetie is this director's most richly creative and psychically adventurous work.
Sweetie is the type of comedy I would write if I wrote comedies-- relentlessly black, full of subversive moments, and deeply, deeply twisted. Barrel of monkeys? I scoff at your fun!
Kay (Karen Colston) is rather mousy, introverted, and not terribly happy in her relationship with Louis (Tom Lycos), whom she lands after consulting a fortune-teller. Not the best start to a relationship, one would think (and one would be right). Still, Kay and Louis are content, in their own miserable way, until Sweetie shows up. Sweetie (Genevieve Lemon) is Kay's younger sister, and she's well, I believe the technical term is "crazy as a loon". No one but Kay, however, seems capable of seeing this; her parents just see her as slightly eccentric, though still their darling baby daughter. Louis is oddly entranced by her. Gordon (Jon Darling), her manager/boyfriend, is convinced she'll be the one to finally net him some success, and he's not put off by the fringe benefits of managing her, most of which he reaps between the sheets. Loudly. As Sweetie slips farther and farther round the bend, though, the rest of the family does come to see that, perhaps, there might be something wrong; unfortunately, no one's equipped to deal with this new perception, and anything that can go wrong, etc.
I should probably insert some sort of warning about triggering conversations/behaviors, but that's kind of the point of the movie, isn't it? This is supposed to push your buttons (in much the same way that Very Bad Things did a few years later). And it does a very good job of it; the movie was castigated and/or damned with faint praise when it appeared, though it has since been recognized as a classic in the making given some of Campion's later output (e.g., The Piano). Campion, who both wrote and directed, is a twisted genius with a camera here; all you can do is sit back and enjoy the ride. And I highly recommend you do so.
I wouldn't normally review a thirteen-minute film, but Passionless Moments, which can be found in Sweetie's DVD extras, is on Jonathan Rosenbaum's list of the thousand best films ever made, so I should probably give it a paragraph. A short made by Campion in 1983, Passionless Moments takes a number of disparate scenes and puts them together. Each of them is oddly familiar, things you've done or wondered about yourself, but presented from odd angles, or with weird cuts; it's as if Roald Dahl got inside your skull and started writing Tales of the Unexpected straight out of your subconscious. It's absolutely worth your time, and is worth the cost of buying the Sweetie DVD by itself. **** (for both).