Things are not good for Sweetness O’Hara. A shy, studious girl in a rough neighborhood, Sweetness (the captivating Zöe Kravitz) is bullied at school and alternately abused and ignored by her alcoholic father and mentally ill mother. When she finally hits her breaking point, things get even worse—if you can believe it.
Director Victoria Mahoney has cast a talented ensemble, featuring Precious star Gabourey Sidibe, Tim Blake Nelson (O Brother, Where Art Thou?), Jason Clarke (Brotherhood) and Shareeka Epps (Half Nelson). Tariq Trotter (best known as MC Black Thought of Philly-based group The Roots) also gives a nuanced performance as a drug dealer with a heart of gold.
Victoria Mahoney with Zoe Kravitz and Gabourey Sidibe
Though the acting is subtle, Mahoney’s portrayal of a decaying neighborhood is anything but—logic is secondary to dramatic effect. Cataclysmic news is delivered by hand-delivered letter; a DIY surgery scene delivers on gross-out but not plausibility. I was left with many questions: why is the Responsible Adult Mentor snorting coke at a teen house party? Why are high schoolers tossing around bags of pills like footballs and beating each other up in the middle of the hallway? (And why is the school drug kingpin dressed like an extra from Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa?) Why does the addition of a single cornrow turn Sweetness into Scarface?
Yes, we’re all sick of pat narratives about overcoming adversity through mere gumption—but the film’s world is so completely, irredeemably awful that it’s, in the end, boring. There’s a way to convey the futility of trying to make it out of a rough neighborhood, but this isn’t it.