TL;DR – A film that will make you laugh and cry in equal measure, that brings a profoundly Australian feel to a coming-of-age story set in the simple stunning Pilbara.
Post-Credit Scene – There are photos during the start of the credits
Disclosure – I paid to see this film
Sweet As Review –
One of the best things about film festivals is finding gems you have not heard about. Today we see just such a film that I caught at the closing gala of The Brisbane International Film Festival. A film about finding yourself along the coast of Western Australia.
So to set the scene, Murra (Shantae Barnes-Cowan) lives with her mother, Grace (Ngaire Pigram), in a mining town on the Western Australian coastline. Murra has to mainly look after herself as her mum struggles with addiction relapses, which comes to a head when someone from one of Grace’s parties tries to break into Murra’s room one night. Calling in on her uncle Ian (Mark Coles Smith), he realises that there are very few options for her left. Using his connections as a cop, Ian gets Murra into a photography program for at-risk kids run by Mitch (Tasma Walton) and Fernando (Carlos Sanson Jr.). The program was designed as a way to help, maybe even a last chance, for Murra and the three other campers, Elvis (Pedrea Jackson), Kylie (Mikayla Levy), and Sean (Andrew Wallace) it could well be.
Sweet As is an odd film in a way because it is a combination of a couple of different genres. This is both a heart-warming coming-of-age story combined with the rebellious sensibility of a road trip film. These two pulls should have fractured the narrative or created some tonal whiplash, but they complement each other for two reasons. First, this film is rooted in the Indigenous Australian understanding of country. There are times when this is the text of the film, but you see it throughout the runtime. As well as this, there is an autobiographical feel to the film that feels integral to the story yet not self-indulgent, which movies like this often tend to be.
Another factor that helps hold this narrative on target is the cast. Sweet As is a film exploring some very complex subject matter; without the cast giving it their all, this film would have fallen flat. Shantae Barnes-Cowan shows incredible maturity as an actor when bringing our central character to life, with all their strengths and weaknesses on show. You will be inspired and frustrated by them during the film, but that is because she captures what it would be like to be a teen in that situation. I first watched Pedrea Jackson in Robbie Hood, and I knew I would see him again, given how well he did there. Here he plays a character trying to process unfathomable trauma, which is heartbreaking. The emotional cornerstone of the film has to be Tasma Walton. Someone full of strength but there is a hint of vulnerability. She has a way of getting to the heart of each of her charges. There is also a moment in the film where she goes, ‘You with me, now’, and you could feel the words hit the audience like a slap as they utter the phrase with a tone like a teacher or a mother, and it felt real, down in your core.
When you have a film set in more rural Australia, one thing can be sure, it is time to send in the drones. I only half-kid, but you tend to only see Australia’s landscape from the air. But when you set your film in Pilbara, it is those close-up details. For a film that constructs its narrative around photography, it also finds beauty in many places. The beauty of a tanker, and oil reservoirs, and skateparks. This creates a vibe for the film, even before they get down into the gorges, where deep reds juxtapose with harsh greens. You need to see the flaky stone on the sides and floor of the canyon because there needs to be that hint of danger. At every moment, the film is a visual spectacle to behold.
From a production perspective, I liked how they incorporated photography into the film. It links the film’s themes with the narrative while supporting the story with insights into the characters. Thankfully they don’t do this every time a photo is taken but just enough to leave an impact. From a narrative perspective, I think you will probably see where most of the plot points will head. While the narrative is straightforward, they use it to craft characters full of nuance.
In the end, do we recommend Sweet As? Absolutely. This is a film that crafts nuanced characters and takes them on a ride that hits every emotion. You would not have known this was from a debut director, given the strength you watched from start to finish. If you liked Sweet As, we would recommend to you Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Sweet As
Directed by – Jub Clerc
Written by – Jub Clerc & Steve Rodgers
Music by –
Cinematography by – Katie Milwright
Edited by – Katie Flaxman
Production/Distribution Companies – Screenwest, Lotterywest, West Australian Screen Fund, Screen Australia, VicScreen & Roadshow Films
Starring – Shantae Barnes-Cowan, Pedrea Jackson, Mikayla Levy, Andrew Wallace, Tasma Walton, Carlos Sanson Jr., Mark Coles Smith & Ngaire Pigram
Rating – Australia: it should be roughly an M;