Healing is never easy, and in Jub Clerc’s Sweet As , we see how a young group try to figure that out in the gorgeous setting of Pilbara. A sentimental coming-of-age film that hits all the right notes.
In remote Pilbara country in Western Australia, a troubled 16-year-old Indigenous girl, Murra, finds herself abandoned after an explosive incident with her drug-fuelled mother. On the cusp of being lost in the ‘Child Protection system, an unusual lifeline is thrown her way by her uncle Ian, the local cop, in the form of a unique Photo Safari. Before Murra knows it, she is careening down a dusty highway with a minibus full of ‘at risk’ teens and two charismatic team leaders.
Perhaps because the story of Sweet As has been taken from parts of writer-director Jub Clerc’s own life, the film feels quite personal. All these teens are trying to find themselves in an environment that has hindered their young lives to this point—all with different reasons for being there, but all in desperate need of a connection that sticks. As a result, there are little moments spread throughout that work well and culminate in a great film.
Yet there are the odd issues within Sweet As. Despite being around these characters for so long, there are times it feels as if we have missed a step in their development. As if Clerc has kept some of us away from us in lieu of keeping the breezy pace going. It also has the issue of having the overly familiar plot points that we are to expect in a coming-of-age story like this.
Some of the groups don’t get on because of their issues that get pushed out emotionally and physically onto each other; the group are to learn to cope by themselves etc. It is all there in the group coming-of-age storybook, and though it doesn’t hold back the film, you wish it was bold enough to make it, even more its own piece. It has the cast and the director to do so, but never strives earnestly enough for that.
While the cast is strong, the star of the show is the setting of Pilbara; there are numerous gorgeous places in the region that Clerc takes us to, including a rather breathtaking gorge around halfway through the film. Katie Milwright was seemingly relishing in capturing the area on film as she gets to show us a landscape few will venture to. She and Clerc take full advantage and continually strive to mesmerise us with each group’s location. Films like Sweet As can accomplish dual goals and tell us a personal and important story while making us fall wholly in love with our surroundings.
Little moments that Clerc adds to the film, such as freeze frame moments of what Murra sees and shoots, are interesting, perfectly telling us how she and the others in the group are feeling. A simple yet very effective touch to an already impressive film. Is Sweet As a little cliched? Sure, but that doesn’t hurt a film like this; it has a lot of heart and works very well. As we get towards the end of the film, like the characters, you can’t help but smile; its magic has worked on you.
Clerc has delivered a thoughtful and personal film; as we hear at the end of the film, if there is one thing you take away from Sweet As is to Stay Brave. You can’t go wrong in doing that.
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