Sweet As offers a contemporary update to the Breakfast Club

It didn’t take long after watching Jub Clerc sweet as to see the point of comparison to which my mind first went (The breakfast club) was not an original idea. It’s an archetypal coming-of-age story for a reason. You see a ragtag group of troubled teenagers forced to deal with their hardships on a mandatory supervised field trip, and allusions to the John Hughes classic aren’t far behind. While he could get away with having this group consist of suburban white kids with varying degrees of entitlement and wealth, however, today’s landscape needs a little more complexity beyond chip intimidation on the shoulder. By setting their film in the Australian Outback, Clerc and co-screenwriter Steve Rodgers talk about race, poverty and exploitation atop this superficial baseline. Because these children are not confronted with privileges. They struggle to survive.

There’s a reason Murra (Shantae Barnes-Cowan) comes home and pushes her wardrobe past her bedroom door. Whether her mother (Ngaire Pigram’s Grace) is in a good place that morning or not, the chance of her having unsavory characters arriving to try and get into her bed is never low enough not to be. prepared. It’s how often it’s been attempted and how little confidence Murra can afford. Does she still hope to be able to give her mother the benefit of the doubt? Sure. If Grace is too drunk to see reason or care about anyone but herself, the teenager has no choice but to call her policeman uncle (Mark Coles Smith’s Ian) for more security. Feeling invisible literally turns into being alone.

So Ian isn’t asking for a favor to bring Murra on a photographic camping retreat to fend off his responsibilities. He would take care of her if his justifiable stubbornness stemming from these feelings of isolation did not prevent him from confusing empathy with pity. Not only will Mitch (Tasma Walton) and Fernando (Carlos Sanson Jr.)’s adventure take Murra out of town for seven days, but it should also leave him wondering where his mother went or if she’ll be back this time. . Noble intentions or not, however, the optics are still hard to swallow considering the other kids coming along for the ride. It’s easy to arm yourself thinking you don’t belong. That you don’t suffer like their. We want to pretend to be fine.

The only person who could fool someone is Elvis (Pedrea Jackson) with a perpetual smile, over-enthusiastic demeanor, and a quick return to politeness when things inevitably spiral out of control. Because he’s on this detention-like journey, however, we know there’s more to his story. No one is that grinder without hiding something they hope no one will see. Maybe it won’t be as bad as Sean (Andrew Wallace) and his debilitating depression causing suicidal ideation, but that doesn’t make him less in need of compassion and companionship. The same goes for Kylie (Mikayla Levy) and her aggressive personality feigning self-reliance while being beholden to an oppressive, much older boyfriend. This trip is above all an escape from the daily nightmares of their lives.

Finding solace becomes a bonus, an uphill struggle even for those who seize the chance instead of shoving it away with indignation. And Mitch and Fernando mean business. They know they’re up against a quartet of unpredictable kids. They know they will have their work cut out to maintain the level of respect necessary to earn trust. That’s why they’ve split into a sort of good cop/bad cop vibe with Fernando’s unapologetic love of photography leading him to cheer on the group while Mitch’s no-nonsense attitude tries to keep them in line. . Kylie enjoys testing their limits (by objectifying her and calling her a “ball-buster”) while the others bide their time to figure out the overall dynamic in their own way.

Murra is the center of attention – an aboriginal girl who finds herself in a world of men who sexually assault or verbally abuse her when given the chance. It’s no surprise, then, that Fernando’s kindness turns out to be puzzling. She’s not used to anyone actually paying attention. Jealousy is not far behind. Neither does opportunism. She and the others are in uncharted territory here with confiscated cell phones and a modicum of freedom that they obviously overstep the first chance they get. All are used to having to fend for themselves, so they don’t think twice when selfishness seems like the best way to get what they want. It is only when they realize that they can rely on each other to achieve these goals that they see their true potential.

It is here, in the desert, that Murra and Elvis have the upper hand. This is their world as Aborigines, and they never forget what they owe their ancestors even though they are struggling to exist in their own skin right now. Some of the best moments of sweet as are the ones where they and Mitch show others their ways with nature and their ability to live off the land. That’s only part of their stories, though. It’s just the surface. The key to Fernando’s lessons is to go deeper and connect beyond stereotypes, prejudices and preconceptions. Perhaps this nurturing begins with a camera lens serving as a doorway beyond convention, but, in the end, they do so simply by acknowledging each other’s humanity and self-worth.

Clerc presents their journey to enlightenment with welcome authenticity by never judging his characters or dismissing their fallibilities. These children harbor a wealth of rage and emotions. They are powder kegs ready to explode and they often do. Rather than having Mitch and Fernando meet them in kind, however, their ability to know when to say something and when to just let these teenagers feel what they’re feeling is inspiring. Because they want to a reaction. They want to be “proved right” when it comes to adults who always let them down. By not giving in to this impulse, these teenagers have no choice but to see when they let themselves down. This they or they have the power to support themselves when no one else will.

sweet as screened as part of the Toronto International Film Festival.