Bitter "Sweetie" Is Still a Beauty
I have culled this emblematically vibrant and paradoxical frame from Sweetie, director Jane Campion's first and personal favorite of her six features. It says everything about my constant, giddy awe before this admittedly inconsistent but underratedly brilliant director that a movie this brave and astonishinga confident, eccentric debut to put even Blood Simple to shamestill takes a Bronze Medal in my own inner Olympics to her gorgeously brazen apex of modern literary adaptations and to the best movie ever made.
Still, Sweetie is an absolute corker, genuinely unnerving and reliably hilarious, and also a movie that was practically invented for the Pause button, since each and every frame has been so wittily, punctiliously composed. Campion's estranging perspectives, her appetites for the alien bloodstreams inside domestic bodies and spaces, and her affinity for mannered performers and unlikely faces make her an especially glorious heir of photographers like Diane Arbusalthough, much more than certain audacious but addled "imaginative portraits" I could name, Sweetie's exaggerated visual ideas and its proclivity for psychic binarisms writ garishly large actually dictate the look, rhythm, and structure of the film at all levels, instead of jittering inside an implausibly but increasingly commercial narrative structure.
For more of my enthusiasm about Sweetieencompassing not just the film but the delicious and exquisitely detailed new DVD package from CriterionI invite you over toward the website of Stop Smiling Magazine, which has generously farmed out another plum reviewing gig to me. Let this stand as partial proof that I am still writing somewhere even as I neglect this poor blogwhich perhaps sees, in that trapped and stunted sapling, a pitiable image of its current condition. And by all means, rent or buy the DVD. I can attest first-hand that if you've only seen the catastrophically cropped and miserably color-timed VHS, you haven't really seen the film. Sweetie might unnerve, frustrate, or agitate youindeed, it's hard to imagine anyone who wouldn't at times feel goaded and tested by this piecebut unlike virtually any movie that has opened on any American screen this year, it bespeaks a major artistic talent and it demands a complex critical reckoning. (Come back to the 5 & Dime, Janey C, Janey C!)
(Images © 1989 New South Wales Film Corporation, reproduced from DVDBeaver's glowing review of the DVD and from the Criterion Collection.)