Directed by Alexandre Rockwell and set in America, Sweet Thing follows siblings Billie and Nico in a poignant yet heart-warming tale of self-discovery. With an alcoholic father and a mostly absent mother, Billie and Nico are constantly seeking stability in their home life, eventually finding temporary escape when they run away together and live their lives as ‘outlaws’.
Rated 15 in the UK/PG-13 in the US, the film deals with complex themes of class, race, sexual and domestic violence, and drug abuse bringing to light the sad reality that many children, both boys and girls, are exposed to on a daily basis. When watching this film, I was reminded of my own privilege both now and when growing up and whilst I could not empathise with the experiences of Billie and Nico on a personal level, I was moved to the point of tears following them on this coming of age journey.
The character of Billie is played by the director’s own daughter, with her younger brother Nico being her real-life sibling as well. Named after Billie Holiday, the Billie in the film romanticises her namesake looking to her as the sort of mother figure she never had yet only existing within the figments of her imagination. The Billie Holiday of Billie’s fantasies acts as her guardian angel, providing her with the strength she needs to deal with her alcoholic father and to muster the courage to run away with her younger brother after almost being sexually assaulted.
Having to shoulder immense responsibility at a young age is sadly not uncommon for many girls, even today. Highlighted in the film through Billie, we see how young girls are often unconsciously forced to take on the role of mother and caregiver. Failed by her parents, an alcoholic dad and a negligent mother with an abusive partner, Billie is left to fend for not only herself but also her younger brother.
Watching the pair navigate their unstable and rocky lives made me think about the resilience many young girls unconsciously develop as an instinctive and defensive response to the world around them. Too many girls are being robbed of their childhoods, exposed to the horrors and sadness of the real world and forced to grow up too quickly. Billie and Nico’s story shows us how it is not only atrocities such as war that displace children from their childhoods, but also the commonplace and everyday goings on of family life that can have such a pernicious effect.
The aesthetic of the film itself reflects the turbulent nature of the siblings’ journey. The starkness of their harsh reality is depicted in monochrome creating a sombre tone for the majority of the film. This is contrasted with peppered bursts of colour signifying moments of happiness and joy which sadly are very few and far between.
A moving story, uplifting yet heartbreaking, Sweet Thing tells an important tale of family, friendship, and loss. Having personally really enjoyed the film, I would wholly recommend a watch to glean an insight into the everyday struggles so many girls are forced to endure.
Girl Museum Inc.