The Sweet East

The Sweet East is a coming-of-age tale told by unreliable narrators (screenwriter Nick Pinkerton and director Sean Price Williams, making audacious feature debuts), and centred around a conceited anti-hero with a personality disorder. Your feelings towards that concept alone will reflect how you will react to the film itself. You can try giving it the benefit of the doubt if you’re already feeling irritated, but I’m afraid your efforts will all be for naught.

The moody anguish of teenage wallflower Lillian (Talia Ryder of Never Rarely Sometimes Never and Netflix’s Do Revenge) allows The Sweet East to hit the ground running. She, understandably, feels frustration towards how she’s perceived by her peers, and she jumps at the chance to abandon a school trip to Washington, D.C. during a sudden crisis. Ryder portrays Lillian with admirable independence and imagination, but she’s also seen as antagonistic. Her travels are provoked by strangers – people who are intrigued or inspired by her and practically beg her to cling on to them. From a socially-awkward academic (Red Rocket’s Simon Rex, playing perfectly against type) to a pair of adamant filmmakers (Jeremy O. Harris, Ayo Edebiri of Theater Camp and TV’s The Bear). The enamoured fixations towards Lillian suggests that the film may not be entirely truthful; that Lillian may be embellishing details for her own enjoyment or confidence boost. She can flawlessly change her personality to adapt to those around her, but the shift is so sudden, we wonder if her mimicking is all internalized.

The Sweet East challenges movie goers to find compassion for Lillian amidst the mistrust. She’s a complicated and closed-off character but, as much as she drives us bananas, we’re still supposed to cheer her on throughout her odyssey. The film doesn’t pull off this trick in a conventional manner, but rather wants the viewer to be impressed by Lillian’s tenacity. We are impressed, but The Sweet East doesn’t make us believe in the change Lillian endures. Along with its jarring use of absurd, dark humour, there are simply too many obnoxious distractions that string the audience along for too long; ultimately driving us away from caring about where Lillian lands.


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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

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