review for Sweetie on AllMovie

Sweetie (1989)
by Michael Hastings review

Writer/director Jane Campion garnered worldwide attention at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival with her first full-length feature, the alternately whimsical and disturbing Sweetie. This color-saturated tale of two sisters -- the reserved, deliberate Kay (Karen Colston) and the uninhibited, childlike Sweetie (Genevieve Lemon) -- divided critics on its release, as it established many of the motifs that Campion would explore in her subsequent successes, An Angel at My Table and The Piano. When the film begins, Kay's sad-sack demeanor and passive behavior appear to be dissolving as she starts to take control of her life -- that is, until the younger Sweetie turns up on her doorstep. Lemon's performance is something to behold: She's a pale, fleshy Freudian nightmare in heavy eye makeup, prone to histrionics and sly turns of seduction. Without resorting to textbook feminist indictments of male culture, the film charts the havoc a husband's indifference and a father's misguided attention can play on the emotional development of two very different women. Campion would later use Lemon in The Piano and Holy Smoke.