Aj (Nell Barlow) is stuck on holiday with her family. They reluctantly accept her sexual identity but not her sense of social responsibility and emergent political identity. Seeking any kind of distraction from her oblivious family, she bumps into the beautiful and beguiling Isla (Ella-Rae Smith). She’s instantly attracted but is nervous about her family getting in the way.
Although some of the characters and situations are amusingly amplified, the film accurately captures the alienation of becoming your own person, surrounded only by people worn down by the practical and conservative concerns. She is constantly affected by the expectations of her families and their limited view of what her life could or should be. The film excels at unpleasant family interactions and awkward adolescent encounters. If it occasionally feels a bit written, it’s far more often affectingly sincere and endearingly funny.
The film is brutally frank in portraying her families shortcomings and lack of understanding, but doesn’t shy away from AJ’s own faults. She’s often dismissive and selfish and often neglects her younger sister. She acts hypocritically and lashes out without thought just as her mother does. AJ’s narration offers a humorous commentary on the mundane family holiday proceedings but also serves a more interesting function as her thoughts contradict her actions. It’s a familiar schism between what’s said and what’s meant.
It’s also a stylish invocation of the garish and claustrophobic caravan park and it’s tranquil coastal setting. There’s a tragic contrast between the colourful trappings of childhood and the sad disaffection of the teenaged AJ. She riles against the ignorant complacency of those around her, but doesn’t have the means to forge a life of her own. Sweetheart is a well observed and endearing portrait of a modern disaffected youth that only occasionally strays into cliché. For the most part, it’s beautifully and awkwardly relatable.