New Written Review from Mike Crowley on You’ll Probably Agree: mini reviews: ‘Emma’ and ‘Sweet Girl’

Here I am, loving a movie about dance. Not because it’s joyful, but because it’s the antithesis of it. I’m curious how other people will take it. I’m one of the few people within my circle that loved Pablo Larraín’s Jackie. Many people within my group saw it as a shallow, meandering discourse about grief, where I saw a fascinating portrait of the many stages of loss. For those friends, I don’t think Emma will be up their alley.

Atmospheric, dark, haunting, these are the type of things that appeal to me. The world Larraín creates feels like you’re suffering a pounding headache from a long night of excesses. Your senses are numb, probably from all the drugs, and the annoyingly similar beats of party music vibrate against the walls of the room you’re tripping out in. 

Dance is a release for Emma (Mariana Di Girólamo) to keep her desirable. Failing to support her son, Emma uses dance as a means of feeding her sex addiction. When we dance, our bodies are free, exercising off the pain from our lives. 

Failure haunts Emma. She’s deficient in treating her son, so she lets him go. Sharing in her failed parenting is her ex-husband Gastón (Gael García Bernal) To him, Emma’s stress relief in dance is a joke. A facade to masquerade her guilt. Instead of drawing in regret, Emma uses lust as a weapon to achieve her selfish needs.

Emma isn’t a musical or celebration of life. Nobody sings to the camera or jumps with joy. There isn’t a pivotal final performance to make the audience erupt with applause. All that’s shown are practice sessions—bodily reflections of a character hiding her pain. I love movies like this—films where the main character is openly cruel yet empathetic. We see the monstrosity in their actions yet understand where those decisions come from, relating it tothe common demons that’s taboo to discuss.

In my opinion, a great film does not have simple answers because if life had that, we’d all not make the questionable choices some of us like Emma does.  

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Straight off the Steven Segal rack from the direct to video aisle, Sweet Girl is the worst type of bad movie, the boring kind. The fight the power message the film contains has no clear intent other than a revenge fantasy. But the movie tries to be a daddy-daughter drama that would have played far better as a revenge comedy. Movies like God Bless America, or Django Unchained works because of how consciously absurd they are. 

Tarantino is aware that Django likely would suffer a tragic demise. But he turns a chapter in one of the darkest periods of American history on its head as a hilarious show of over-the-top murders towards the evil of the world. Sweet Girl is too tone-deaf to have the audience root against the pharmaceutical antagonists of the film.

Whenever a filmmaker gets aesthetically stuck, they shoot the movie handheld. I know this because I’ve done it when a deadline was approaching. If I needed to be off the set at a particular time and it would take too long to set up the next scene, I’d throw the camera over my shoulders then roll. I wonder if the director (Brian Andrew Mendoza) ran into those very scenarios. 

Whatever drive or tension there is in the story is immediately deflated when the big baddy is killed off within close to thirty minutes of the film. The parental drama isn’t enough to go on for the story to continue. Every convention is thrown in a perfect recipe of sameness soup with a lack of quality action to make anything engageable.

You can’t tell what’s going on in the fight scenes. The camera is more shakey than a Jason Borne film. When the drama plays, the smooth-steady filter is switched off so we can feel the grittiness of Jason Mamoa struggling to cry. If Sweet Girl is worth any unintentional laugher, it’s when DP (Barry Ackroyd) shoots JM pacing comically around the hospital room in a master shot while wildly overacting in a moment of grief, or hulking out.

There’s nothing to go on from making Sweet Girl feel like a struggle to sit through. Missing a voice, script, or a structure, I’d only watch this if it were the single thing download on my phone while waiting in the hospital. 

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