“Sometimes, in life, you just gotta roll with the punches…”
Late into the runtime of Tom Danger’s Sweethurt, an endearing coming of age adult comedy about the intricacies of love, companionship, self identity, and friendship, the main protagonist Jacob (Rav Ratnayake) finds himself ruminating on his love life with a friendly woman in a bar. His mind is restless, his eyes search for a sense of hope, and his hands fidget with an unmistakable weight to him. Unbeknown to him before she shares her mind, the woman he is speaking to is as conflicted as he is, too weary of the cyclical pattern of relationships while also too uncertain of carrying on with a paralyzing fear of utter loneliness. They share a mutual acknowledgement of the keen sting of love, and their meeting feels to be far more than just a luck by chance encounter. To “roll with the punches'' is their way of assuring one another that this is all a part of life.
It’s precisely these moments that distinguish Sweethurt, which artfully balances the stylistic zaniness of horror comedy flicks and the nostalgia of many 80s and 90s classics such as Chasing Amy and American Pie with a beautifully nuanced coming of age narrative on the many forms of love and friendship. The film has a virtual screening at the 2021 New Jersey International Film Festival on Sunday, June 6th, and may be viewed from anywhere in the world.
The film follows the journey of Jacob, an optimistic young man who embarks on what promises to be a pleasant road trip to a beach-side town to sort out his deceased grandfather’s belongings. Accompanied by his two best friends and sister, the group arrives at the town to discover that it is also coincidentally the home of Jacob’s old flame, Olivia (Alannah Robertson), and her new boyfriend. Parallel to their story is that of Skye (Tyra Cartledge) and Carly (Rhiaan Marquez), one struggling to cope with the implications of her breakup with her four-year long partner and the other attempting to ease the pain of her best friend with fun diversions. How the two stories intertwine with one another amid a series of hysterical and bizarre interactions featuring pirates, a satanic ritual, and an eccentric man (Dylan Lee) with a baby goat is what forms the crux of the film.
Director Tom Danger’s Sweethurt is an ambitious directorial venture. Unlike many storytellers in the digital age with the emergence of OTT platforms that have failed to successfully traverse the complexities of contemporary love in their own films, Danger’s brand of cinema is a breath of fresh air in a genre that only a handful of filmmakers have succeeded in. Co-written by Danger himself alongside his longtime collaborator and dearest friend, Logan Webster, the duo excel in--as Danger says-- “injecting humanity” in a story of heartbreak and protagonists falling in and out of love. Even more remarkable is that Danger and Webster do not flinch from portraying the absurdity of certain characters and situations on screen. As Jacob, Carly, and Skye each combat their own respective insecurities throughout the course of the film, their circumstances grow increasingly surreal as all the characters they interact with have their own quirks and offbeat mannerisms.
With such an assured vision on paper and on screen, it is hard to believe that this is only Danger’s second film. The Australian filmmaker, who made his directorial debut in 2015 with the acclaimed crime thriller Lead Me Astray, cites Sweethurt as a radical but exciting departure from his deep love for horror cinema and appreciation for directors such as John Carpenter. Danger met co-writer and actor Logan Webster in Drama class at the age of 12, but did not happen to connect with his good friend until about a decade later when he as an aspiring filmmaker himself found Webster looking for work as an actor.
As luck would have it, the duo then starred in and assisted in the filming of each other’s films, and there has been no looking back since then. Webster plays Drew, one of Jacob’s best friends in the film, lending a comedic timing and sincerity to the character that allows viewers to resonate with his charming and amusing antics throughout the film. Danger says that the film stemmed from a joint desire to write a “funny script” and that their mutual love for horror comedies is apparent in Sweethurt as well, with elements of the genre beautifully placed throughout the heartwarming story.
The duo shines through very self-aware writing that features multi-faceted characters who strike a chord with you and also fascinate you when the story shows the characters as creatures of habit, reverting to making the mistakes they did before and learning from them to a greater degree. Jacob feels as if he can salvage a relationship when his ex-girlfriend has already moved on, Skye attempts to find solace at the bottom of a pint of ice cream or in isolation, and Drew fails to fight off the romantic advances of Jacob’s sociopathic sister (Sam Germain). It’s this intriguing journey throughout the film that makes it so appealing. The writing works here because it does not attempt to preach its themes and it naturally depicts the mystery of how people stay in love long after their love becomes blatantly unrequited. It also helps that the writing is brought to life by the natural synergy and chemistry between the principal cast, who all share a wonderful camaraderie off screen.
To bring Danger and Webster’s joint vision alive on screen is the incredible work of Director of Photography Shane Kavanagh, who captures the beauty of the beach town on screen as well as provides long shots that in certain sequences emulate the rush of a drunken house party. The cinematography complements the performances, which feel contemporary and mirror the nature of today’s generation. Combined together, the film feels like a nostalgic viewing as you come to watch and adore the ensemble cast.
Sweethurt is a film that depicts the joys and troubles of heartbreak with equal focus, showing that it is okay to falter in love and settle in a transitory place of unease as you gain your footing again. Love can be as sweet and intense as you make it to be, and when you least expect it, it can provide an awakening that can change your life.
Sweethurt will be playing Video on Demand at the 2021 New Jersey International Film Festival on June 6. Here is the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XxlAGJgvD-U
Here is more info on this screening:
Sunday, June 6, 2021 - $12=General.
Film will be available on Video On Demand for 24 hours on this show date. To buy tickets go here.
For more info on the Festival go here.
Sunday, June 6 – Program 2
Sweethurt – Tom Danger (Turramurra, NSW, Australia) Sweethurt is a young adult comedy with two interwoven stories of love, friendship, and the paralyzing fear of dying alone. The story revolves around Jacob, a young man who embarks on a road-trip to a small, beach-side town with his two best friends and sociopath sister, for what promises to be a fun weekend of going through their newly-deceased grandfather's stuff - but upon arrival, Jacob's true motivations are revealed; his ex-girlfriend, Olivia, lives in the town, and Jacob wants one last shot at probably disappointing her again. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the same town, Skye has just had her heart broken, and the only one who can pick up the pieces is her best friend Carly - together, they go on a voyage through the night, having to deal with perverts, pirates, and worst of all - her parents. There is also a baby goat, of course. It features a wonderfully diverse cast of lead characters in a coming-of-age story very much in the same vein as 80's and 90's classics such as Say Anything, Chasing Amy and American Pie. 2020; 93 min.