Wednesday 17 November 2021


Returning with his first full length feature film in ten years, Alexandre Rockwell's Sweet Thing follows the lives of Billie and Nico (Lana and Nico Rockwell), two children looking for some stability in life away from their alcoholic father and negligent mother. Forced to hit the road when faced with a new danger, they encounter Malik (Jabari Watkins), a renegade street kid who'll do whatever he can to help them on their quest to find peace.

Based on Rockwell's 2013 short feature Little Feet, Sweet Thing stars his children Lana and Nico, along with their mother and his wife Karyn Parsons as the troubled Eve, a strip club bartender with questionable taste in men. When their heartbroken and troubled alcoholic father, Adam (Will Patton), gets locked up by the court, Billie and Nico go to stay with their mother at her boyfriend (M.L. Josepher) Beaux's beach house. When Beaux's control over their mother turns violent and Billie sees the danger they're in, she takes Nico off in search of a better life.

For those unfamiliar with the work of Alexandre Rockwell, he's a staunchly independent filmmaker of low budget, (occasionally) black & white films, scorched by his experience working in the studio system as director of one segment of 1995's noble flop, Miramax's Four Rooms. Since then he's avoided big studio involvement, opting for lower profile, more personal films starring his closest collaborators, friends and family. Sweet Thing follows suit, with the two leads played by his children with Karyn Parsons, Lana and Nico. Rather than an act of nepotism, this casting furthers the personal nature of Rockwell's films. Sweet Thing could only have been made with his children.

At the heart of the film is the performances of Lana and Nico Rockwell, with Lana in particular shining in her role of Nico's surrogate parent and protector. She's a magnetic screen presence that the camera absolutely loves, and even if the role doesn't call for any big dramatic gusto, she's able to showcase her acting and singing talent and hold her own against the more seasoned actors. In some ways there's a home movie feel to it, albeit one where the director is a contemporary of Quentin Tarantino and one of the main cast members was on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. It's a family affair that draws on Rockwell's previous films (the opening titles credit it as "a film by Adolpho Rollo", Steve Buscemi's lead character in Rockwell's In The Soup), casting his good friend Will Patton as Adam, the family patriarch and a thinly veiled and unflattering simulacrum for Rockwell himself.

The narrative might not be wholly unique, drawing from other 'on the run' road movies like Badlands (the classic Gassenhauer theme music is used here and fits nicely) and Night of the Hunter, but in a film that exists in such a haze of magic realism that's hard to pin down its setting to any particular era, that only adds to the timeless, ethereal quality to it. It's full of beautiful imagery, whether it's the kids walking down a quiet train track or letting their hair blow out an open car window, and although it's mostly presented in black & white, Rockwell occasionally deploys shots of vivid colour when needed.

Scrappy in places but in a charming, go-getter film school kind of way (the crew was largely made up of Rockwell's NYU students) that you rarely see in the digital age, much like the antics of the self-professed "renegades and outlaws", Billie, Nico and Malik, it's a film full of childhood adventure that's only enhanced by the raw, personal nature of Rockwell's filmmaking. The title hits the nail on the head.



Sweet Thing is available now via blu-ray. The initial release also contains a booklet with an essay by film writer Jason Wood, but is lacking in further extras, such as the desired inclusion of Little Feet, Rockwell's 2013 project that served as the genesis for this film.

Sweet Thing is now also streaming on Mubi.