Sweet Thing is a film of two halves.
In the first, we are flies on the wall observing the lives of two children, Billie (Luna Rockwell) and Nico (Nico Rockwell), played confidently by director Alexandre Rockwell’s own children. They live with their alcoholic father, Adam (Will Patton), who works bit jobs; in this season as a Santa, and then wearing a Panda suit on the side of the road, advertising a store closing soon. Any money he gets goes towards booze, and Billie is responsible for running the household. They wrap their Christmas presents in tin foil, and even the nicest moments turn sour as Adam’s blood alcohol slowly rises.
Their mother, Eve (Karyn Parsons – the child actors’ mother, and director Rockwell’s wife and long time collaborator), is absent and disinterested. Living with her partner Beaux (M.L. Josepher), a nasty, selfish and abusive man.
The first half of the film is a tough watch, relentlessly sad and painful to the point where it feels verging on exploitative. Poverty porn, and a view on hard lives designed for entertainment. However, at the midway point, after an encounter with another abusive adult, the children run away.
With Malik (Jabari Watkins), a boy they’ve met on the beach, they attempt to make the journey from the Massachusetts summer home they’re stuck in to Florida, where Malik hopes to find his estranged father. The shift at this point is a stark one, and we’re suddenly travelling with these children, joining them on their unattainable fantasy adventure. Warmth floods the screen and at this stage, Sweet Thing becomes a much more appealing and endearing film.
Sweet Thing is shot distinctively in black and white, with occasional momentary flashes of colour. Giving the look of something older and more worn than it should. The moments of colour are akin to a home movie from the 80s rather than anything modern, and the sharpness of the black and white photography emphasises every line, mark and hair on the actors faces. Bringing home the hardness of their lives and experiences. There is a familiarity to it, as musical and visual choices lean on earlier films to confirm views of their activities. Instant recognition of iconic scenes from earlier films suggests a temporary happiness, or a dreamlike fantasy that will ultimately crumble, with the knowledge that childhood must eventually end.
Sweet Thing is a film that warrants patience and persistence to see it through. The relentless sadness of the first half is hard to push past, but ultimately sets the stage for the warmth of the second.
The blu-ray sadly has no special features beyond the option to watch with subtitles, an unusual oversight for Eureka considering the standard of their releases. The first print run does come with a booklet featuring an essay by film writer Jason Wood, but it would have been nice to have the option of a commentary at least. However, the film itself is worthy of a place on your shelf regardless.
Sweet Thing is released on Special Edition Blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment on November 15th.