Film Review: Sweetheart

Words: George White
Friday 24 September 2021
reading time: min, words

Featuring Nottingham's own Sophia Di Martino, this coming of age story is well worth your time...


Director: Marley Morrison
Nell Barlow, Jo Hartley, Ella-Rae Smith
Running time: 94 minutes

When April (Nell Barlow) and her family take a trip to the seaside for their summer holiday, she finds herself falling for Ella-Rae Smith’s Isla – leading to arguments, silent treatment and heartache aplenty. Yet as the story progresses, the once moody April starts to realise the importance of family, honesty and, you guessed it, love. 

In simple terms, Sweetheart is a quintessentially British coming-of-age film. There are hints of Eighth Grade, of Booksmart, of Ladybird, but this is still a fresh, unique entry into a much-explored world. The setting alone – the type of slightly dingy, drab coastal resort almost everyone on these shores has experienced at some point during their childhood – creates sequences that no other rival has presented in the past. Huffing laughing gas round the back of a static caravan is hardly what you’d expect to find in a Greta Gerwig movie, for example. 

The dilemmas our protagonist faces are largely unexplored, too. Sure, April is navigating the awkwardness of young adulthood, and first romances, and toxic friendship groups, but she is also concerned about climate change, and morality, and the sorts of issues that real young people in this country are wrestling with every day. The film is powerful because it’s nuanced and authentic, and writer-director Marley Morrison deserves great credit for that. 

Underpinning this original take on the coming of age story is a fascinating examination of the difficult dynamics and challenges everybody faces with their loved ones. Fractured connections are threaded throughout, with April failing to navigate relationships with her mother, her sister and Isla, refusing to open up and be honest with those she cares about. Again, the realism of the script is commendable here; every tough moment, every falling out is raw and believable, making the story that much more immersive.

While the coming of age subgenre is overly saturated, Sweetheart manages to bring a new, niche approach to the game

Relative newcomer Barlow is impressive in the lead role, managing to cling on to the audience’s empathy even when her character makes rather questionable decisions. Aside from a slight dip when delivering some admittedly pretty on-the-nose dialogue as narrator, Barlow effectively tackles the highs and lows of April throughout the film, keeping the viewer hooked and ensuring the payoff in the final act fully hits home.

Barlow is joined by a pretty phenomenal supporting cast. Jo Hartley is near-flawless in her role as pushy yet caring mum, Tina. Everybody has met a Tina at some point in their lives, someone fully committed to supporting those around them while inadvertently pushing them away, and that sense of truth is largely due to Hartley’s convincing display. 

Nottingham’s own Sophia Di Martino is fantastic, too, nailing the more obnoxious aspects of her character with delicious ease, while at the same time gradually and expertly adding layers of emotional depth as time rolls on. Di Martino teams up brilliantly with the charming Samuel Anderson, with the pair keeping things interesting regardless of whether they’re going head-to-head or having a heart-to-heart. 

The entirety of the story is stunningly captured by Morrison and his team, with some gorgeous cinematography finding a surprising amount of beauty in the bleakness of the film’s setting. A regular stream of rugged, restless handheld camerawork throws the viewer into April’s hectic world and keeps them there, making sure every cringey moment, every outburst of rage, every tentative beat of emotion, is fully impactful. 

So, while the coming of age subgenre is perhaps overly saturated, Sweetheart manages to bring a new, niche approach to the game. With a sharp and intelligent script excellently delivered by a fantastic cast, this marks an outstanding success story for Morrison – and with his debut feature, no less. Sweeeet.

Did you know? Sophia Di Martino starred in short film Baby Gravy, also directed by Marley Morrison. 

Sweetheart is available in cinemas from Friday 24 September. 

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