Not since The Florida Project have I felt this emotional about a story of children forced to grow up way too fast. Alexandre Rockwell’s Sweet Thing is the adventure of siblings Billie (Lana Rockwell) and Nico (Nico Rockwell), forced on the run after the breakup of their family.
It’s Christmas in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and Adam (Will Patton) struggles to pull together Christmas for his kids Billie and Nico, let alone a meal every day, as a department store Santa. But, unfortunately, mother Eve (Karyn Parson) left Adam for a better and more exhilarating life with her new boyfriend Beaux (ML Josepher).
After Eve bails on the kids for her birthday dinner, the devastated Adam goes on a drunken bender and returns home. Unfortunately, an incident occurs just short of physical abuse against the kids, and Adam is forced to enter a rehab facility in Florida. While their dad is getting help, Billie and Nico stay with Eve and Beaux. As they wander the new neighborhood, they run into Malik (Jabari Watkins) and become instant friends.
At dinnertime, Billie and Nico quickly realize that Eve and Beaux also have drinking problems. Beaux is not only a drunk, but he is incredibly intimidating, controlling, and abusive toward Eve…and soon the children. Billie and Nico decide it’s time to leave and head to Florida to be with Adam. Before they can go, the pair are confronted by an angry Beaux, only to be rescued by the heroic Malik, who stabs Beaux. The three are now fugitives on the run, racing their way to Florida.
“The three are now fugitives on the run, racing their way to Florida.”
Let me slowly go down the list of what makes Sweet Thing an incredible movie. Stylistically, writer/director Rockwell shot on 16mm black and white film for a gritty, raw, and dark feel. It enhances the story beyond measure. He even goes so far as to switch to color during the kids’ first day spent with Eve and Beaux.
This is Billie’s story overall, and Lana Rockwell shines and carries the story’s dramatic narrative. She is an exceptional actor, and the role of Billie is a demanding one. Her character is named after Billie Holiday, and the parallels between their lives are not lost. She shows off a wide range of emotions, and I’m still haunted by the scene when Adam comes home drunk after Eve’s rejection. We have a star in the making here.
The first two acts of Sweet Thing are pretty typical for stories of family dysfunction, but Alexandre elevates these stories. Adam, Billie, and Nico may be lacking and can barely afford a Christmas tree, but their love for one another stands out. So much so that when Adam goes to rehab, the kids can’t stop loving him. In the second act, Billie and Nico are forced to take their life’s path into their own hands.
It’s the third act that stands out. With Malik, the narrative begins to feel like Stand By Me as the trio moves from adventure to adventure, learning lessons on the cruelties of this world and finding a way to come out on top. The kids use this moment to escape the world of adults searching for just a moment of the good life. In turn, they learn the ultimate lessons in trust, loyalty, and sacrifice.
Because it’s an independent film, Sweet Thing runs the risk of getting lost and fading into obscurity. However, for fans of exceptional cinema, I hope this review serves as a call to go out of one’s way and find your way to see Sweet Thing any way you can.
"…adventure to adventure, learning lessons on the cruelties of this world..."