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Film Review: “Sweet Girl” Is a Misbegotten Mess, Grounded in Genuine Tragedy

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | August 20th, 2021

Film girl: “Sweet Girl”

Sweet Girl (Brian Andrew Mendoza, 2021) 1 out of 4 stars.

What do Justin Bartha, Amy Brenneman, Lex Scott Davis, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Raza Jaffrey, Isabela Merced and Jason Momoa all have in common? They have the unique distinction of starring in one of the dumbest (so far) films of 2021. Filled with expository voiceover, misbegotten fight sequences, poor direction of actors, even worse mise-en-scène and a constant need for suspension of disbelief, Sweet Girl, from the minds of writers Philip Eisner (Mutant Chronicles) and Gregg Hurwitz (The Book of Henry), and director Brian Andrew Mendoza (making his feature debut), is a messy thriller that doesn’t offer the bare minimum of guilty pleasures. I like mayhem as much as the next filmgoer, but if nothing adds up and the chaos is only that, then there’s nothing to recommend. What makes it all worse is that the entire premise is grounded in what, on paper, is a genuine tragedy, moving in theory, but here serving merely to drive the ludicrous action.

Momoa (Aquaman) plays Ray, who when we first meet him in the opener is running from the FBI. Trapped on a roof, he leaps into the water below (which, given his DC-superhero role, shouldn’t be a problem). As he sinks into the murky depths, his narration takes us back to what a title card informs us is “years earlier.” There, we find him happy in his role as husband and father, until his wife develops cancer. Working class, they have little money for the expensive treatments, until one day their doctor informs them that a generic version of a drug manufactured by the pharmaceutical company BioPrime will soon be on the market. Hurray! Their joy is cut short when that same doctor lets them know soon thereafter that the drug has been pulled. It seems that the big bad pharma dudes have bribed the other manufacturers so they can continue to rake in big profits. Say it isn’t so!

Jason Momoa in SWEET GIRL @ Clay Enos/Netflix

What does Ray do? While his teenage daughter Rachel (Merced, Dora and the Lost City of Gold) looks on in horror, he calls up a TV program where BioPrime’s CEO (Bartha, Sorry for Your Loss) is a guest, threatening to kill him if his wife dies. I won’t ruin the suspense beyond that, but with such a setup, you can guess what happens. As the plot thickens and outrageous twist after outrageous twist ensues, others become involved, including an additional evil corporate type (Jaffrey, The Rhythm Section), an ambitious congresswoman (Brenneman, Peel), a not-so-mysterious hitman (Garcia-Rulfo, 6 Underground) and a very empathetic federal agent (Davis, The First Purge). Sometimes they interact, sometimes they don’t. No matter, either way.

And then there is the issue of a certain major plot reveal that returns us to that opening rooftop (actually the top of PNC Park, where the Pittsburgh Pirates play). Earlier in the film, I had suspected that what is shown then might happen, though I did not think it would play out in quite the way it does. So kudos to the filmmakers for being even weirder than I thought they were. But the net result for me was unintentional hilarity, since the truth of that dramatic convolution merely makes everything that comes before, including dialogue, that much less probable. If narrative nuttiness is your thing, maybe Sweet Girl will deliver. I, however, am off in search of better cinematic sustenance.

Isabela Merced in SWEET GIRL @ Clay Enos/Netflix
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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is a former cohost of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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