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‘Sweet Thing’ is a Sad, Beautiful Family Affair

Tribeca Film Festival

Critically-Acclaimed Indie Filmmaker Alexandre Rockwell is at the Peak of His Filmmaking Prowess

Alexandre Rockwell was an acclaimed indie director of the early ’90s, making such movies as In the Soup and Somebody to Love that were respected entries in the burgeoning independent cinema at the time. Tarantino completists might remember Rockwell best for his contribution to 1995’s anthology Four Rooms; Rockwell’s segment was “The Wrong Man,” which featured David Proval and Jennifer Beals acting out a psychodrama. 

Rockwell has mostly been out of sight of late, only directing three films in the current century, and none since Little Feet, in 2013, although that film did earn some acclaim. But now the director is back with Sweet Thing, which was founded in part with a Kickstarter campaign

A gorgeous new film, Sweet Thing was to play in April at the Tribeca Film Festival until that fest was cancelled due to coronavirus. The film, which debuted at the Berlin Film Festival last year – where it took home the Crystal Bear award for Best Film- is currently being screened on Tribeca’s press-and-industry platform. 

Sweet Thing is a family affair both in front of and behind the camera. Rendered mostly in beautiful black and white by Rockwell and cinematographer Lasse Tolbøll – although there are a few segments with color – Sweet Thing is about a pair of young siblings, Billie and Nico (played by the director’s own kids, Lana and Nico Rockwell.) 

Billie, both named for Billie Holiday and obsessed with her music, and her brother live in Massachusetts with their drunken dad Adam (Will Patton), and after he gets into legal trouble, they head to the beachside home of her mother Eve (Karyn Parsons- Hilary from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air!- who is the wife of Rockwell and the mother of the two kid actors.) Their mom lives with another drunk (ML Josepher) who’s even more monstrous than the alcoholic dad they’re used to. Yes, the parents are named Adam and Eve, but the biblical allegory only goes so deep. 

The kids later end up on the run, with a new friend named Malik (Jabari Watkins), so they essentially become drifters, and something resembling a new family. 

It’s a very sad story, and an often heartbreaking one, even before a certain event that happens near the end. 

But Sweet Thing is also stunningly rendered. All three kid actors are incredibly talented, and the film makes very strong use of music, which includes multiple examples of Lana Rockwell’s fine singing.

There’s a score that seems heavily inspired by Hans Zimmer’s music for True Romance, while two separate extended sequences are set to the Van Morrison song of the title. According to the Kickstarter campaign, part of the purpose of raising funds was to obtain the rights to that song. 

Actress Jennifer Beals, who was formerly married to Rockwell, is an executive producer, as is actor Sam Rockwell, who despite the same surname is no relation to the director. 

Sweet Thing is without distribution at the moment, but this is a film that deserves to be seen. 

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and RogerEbert.com. In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

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