Sweet Thing – Bitter Sweet [MOVIE REVIEW]

Lana Rockwell as Billie and Nico Rockwell as Nico in “Sweet Thing.” Photo courtesy of Film Movement.

“Sweet Thing,” written and directed by Alexandre Rockwell, is a throwback to an earlier era.

Rockwell begins his story during the Christmas season. Teenage Billie and her younger brother Nico live a shabby life with their father Adam, employed temporarily as a sidewalk Santa in front of the bus station. Separated from his wife Eve with an endless longing, he is barely holding on. Rejected anew by Eve, out of work once again, he increases his already substantial drinking until his tenuous hold on life snaps and he is forced into rehab. The children are sent to live with Eve at her boyfriend’s Eastern seaboard beach home. The director has fashioned a loving portrait of siblings caught in a cycle of bad parenting that Billie is trying to navigate for her brother.

Billie and Nico are resilient and see as much as they can in a positive light, but abused by Eve’s lover, they take off with streetwise new friend Malik. They may or may not have killed Beaux in order to escape, although either way it’s no loss.

On the run, they are determined to make it down to Florida where Malik’s father lives, most likely in prison. Under his tutelage, they break into homes for shelter and ride in the cars that he hot wires.

Filmed beautifully by Lasse Tolbøll, his black and white cinematography captures the grit, lines, and shadows that give this film its underpinnings. In this case, the use of black and white is an appropriate metaphor for the color that is missing in their lives.

A slight film, but one that delivers some indelible portraits, it is difficult not to think that Rockwell was channeling a few earlier films. It is somewhat reminiscent of the 1953 film entitled “The Little Fugitive,” and in style, it would seem as though he was influenced by the films of John Cassavetes, using a similar spontaneity and improvisation in the storytelling.

“Sweet Thing” was a family affair. Billie and Nico are portrayed by his own children Lana and Nico Rockwell. They have the kind of screen presence that makes you ache and root for them. Their wayward mother Eva is played by their real life mother Karyn Parsons. Unfortunately Parsons’ role is somewhat two-dimensional and she is less skilled at showing the kind of spontaneity that her children exhibit. M.L. Josepher plays Eve’s love interest, and although menacing, he is over the top, showing very little nuance.

Will Patton as Billie and Nico’s damaged father gives a terrific performance. His longing, his missteps, his frailties are all in evidence but it is the love he shows for his children, even when he is incapable of functioning, that anchors the film.

The soundtrack is quite good, featuring songs by Van Morrison, Billie Holiday, and Brian Eno. In looking at the credits, however, I noted that Paul Robeson’s “Trees,” the song that opens the film, was not credited.

Premiering on Virtual Cinema on June 18.


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Written by: Neely Swanson

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