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The Sweet East ★★★



Released: 29 March 2024

Director: Sean Price Williams

Starring: Jacob Elordi, Talia Ryder, Ayo Edebiri

Sean Price Williams has built a successful career as a Cinematographer working on the Safdie Brothers’ Good Time among others. Williams now makes his debut with the surrealist road film The Sweet East. The ensemble cast is full of rising stars like The Bear’s Ayo Edebiri and Saltburn’s Jacob Elordi.

We follow high school student Lillian (Talia Ryder), moving through a series of increasingly absurd situations involving an armed holdup at a restaurant, seeking refuge with a group of dissidents and staying with a right-wing academist much older than her. The Sweet East does feel like several films being crammed into one, with Lillian our one constant throughout. Clocking in at just over 90 minutes, at times you suspect it might have benefited from one less subplot to allow greater focus on the figures who drift in and out of Lillian’s life. The multiple storylines, which vary so much tonally make this a compelling, unorthodox viewing that never conforms to what the audience will expect.

One of the drawbacks of the vignette style framing is the cast being more cameos than meaningful roles. Especially when you have actors of the calibre of Simon Rex and the likes of Jacob Elordi, this can be rather frustrating. Price Williams in his debut feature, shows plenty of flair and vision delivering a unique twist on both the coming-of-age and road trip movie, giving us a blend of rural America and cityscapes like New York.

It is hard to categorise The Sweet East and whilst it can be wide of the mark at times, it is hard not to applaud a debut this ambitious that has a lot to say about various factions of American society, poking fun at the alt right and the artistic community among others. It will be interesting to follow what Williams does next. This is also a fine advert for Ryder in a lead role, following supporting stints in West Side Story and Never Rarely Sometimes Always.

The Sweet East is an engrossing if uneven debut bolstered by its cast and premise, never quite going the expected route and with a loose structure that works to its benefit. While it may not be for all, it offers plenty of signs of promise for its first time director and lead.

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