Murra (Shantae Barnes-Cowan) is a young Indigenous teenager. Home life for Murra could be far better. After an altercation occurs at home, Murra’s mother drives away from all the drama and family conflict. Thankfully, Murra’s uncle, Ian (Mark Coles Smith), is also a local policeman. Ian takes care of her and attempts to help with some of the recent family dramas. At the same time, Murra’s behaviour is becoming increasingly self-destructive, which is also identified by her uncle. While problems at home are being slowly resolved, Ian enrols Murra in a “photo-safari” for at-risk kids, an unexpected opportunity that impacts her life.
Murra is unconvinced that the safari will offer her anything in return. Led by a pair of counsellors, Fernando (Carlos Sanson Jr.) and Michelle (Tasma Walton), she will travel by bus, stopping to take various photographs along the way. With no other choice available, she boards the bus with fellow passengers, including Kylie (Mikayla Levy), Sean (Andrew Wallace), and Elvis (Pedrea Jackson). As the trip begins, many leading characters, including Murra, have new experiences and share unforgettable and life-changing moments.
For those unaware, Sweet As is a coming-of-age drama film by Nyul Nyul / Yawuru Director Jub Clerc. Publicity describes Sweet As as “…The Breakfast Club meets the Outback…” which I highly agree with. It’s a film with positive messages, including the idea that life is not over even when it seems at its worst. It’s also a story I’m confident will be relatable and reflects life as a young teenager. Murra makes friends with unlikely people, has a first crush and discovers a hobby that becomes far more powerful. Murra isn’t the only teenager we meet; the fellow teenagers who travel with her also carry different backstories and personalities. The counsellors are human enough that they, too, don’t always get things right (again, hence the vibe of The Breakfast Club).
The pacing is great, starting with a gripping and heartbreaking opening. Audiences will find themselves invested in Murra’s life, hoping for a pleasing outcome by the end. As Murra goes on the trip, you can’t help but be curious about her self-discovery, whether it’s her enjoyment of photography or how she interacts with those around her. By the third act, there’s a pleasing sense that you shared this journey with Murra, and a sense of achievement and positivity comes from it.
While the story and visuals are pleasing, I must confess that some side characters have cliché moments and often seem slightly over the top. Some characters put themselves in situations that seem hard to accept, including the counsellors, whom I’d expect would have more experience or wisdom. Lines of dialogue sometimes come across as either forced or unnatural. Still, central performances were good. Shantae Barnes-Cowan, as Murra, was terrific and provided heartfelt, touching performance filled with realism.
Overall, Sweet As truly feels like “…The Breakfast Club meets the Outback…”. There’s a story here that’s heartfelt, realistic, and touching. Audiences can connect with many themes and deeply relatable moments throughout. The pacing is great, with a rewarding third act and conclusion. The leading performance from actress Shantae Barnes-Cowan as Murra is wonderful and convincing as she journeys into a world of self-discovery, healing, friendship, and forgiveness.
Sweet As (2022) is Now Available at the Gold Coast Film Festival 2023. For more information and session times, check out the link here: https://www.gcfilmfestival.com/