This is the twenty-fourth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 24 is called "Southern Exposure: Jane Campion Week".
Though not as obscure as our Northern Exposure director, Jane Campion has made a name for herself, due in large part to her breakout hit, The Piano. The thing is though, as far as I can tell, a lot of people haven't viewed her work outside of that film. So if you've yet to see it, you're in for a treat, and if you have seen it, you get to see how a filmmaker develops. A win-win.
This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film directed by Jane Campion.
Sweetie was Jane Campion's debut as a feature director, after a few years making shorts. She's had a fine career, winning an Oscar for her screenplay for The Piano, which she also directed, helping Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin win acting Oscars. She created the television series Top of the Lake with Elisabeth Moss, and had her hand in a variety of movies over the years (I'm partial to An Angel at My Table). Sweetie was her idea ... besides directing, she also co-wrote the screenplay. And it's an odd one.
The family at the center of Sweetie is, let's say, dysfunctional. At first, the film seems to center on Kay, a young woman, shy and superstitious. She seems socially awkward at her work, and she begins a relationship with a new boyfriend, Louis, because of the tea readings of a fortune teller. There is something a tiny bit off in the way Campion and cinematographer Sally Bongers present Kay's life, but it's nothing you can put your finger on, and I settled in to what I assumed would be a quiet look at an unassuming individual. Kay's parents are just eccentric enough to suggest how Kay became Kay.
And then Kay's sister Dawn, called "Sweetie", turns up, and we see that this family is more than a tiny bit off. Sweetie is ... how to say it ... kind of crazy. As the film progresses, we learn that she has essentially demanded attention from her family since childhood, and she goes over the edge more than once in her interactions with others. The tone of the film wavers, at times a comedy, at times a family drama, often exhibiting a mean streak towards Sweetie. To the extent the movie sympathizes with anyone, it's more Sweetie's family than Sweetie herself, although the way her parents indulged her since she was a kid is a type of "explanation" for how she turned out.
Sweetie is different. Karen Colston and Geneviève Lemon are intriguing as Kay and Sweetie. I couldn't always tell what was intended by Campion and her co-screenwriter Gerard Lee, and the movie is not close to a complete success. But it's an interesting look at Campion when she was just starting.