The Sweet East (2023)

The Sweet East is cinematographer Sean Price Williams’ directorial debut, with a screenplay by film critic Nick Pinkerton. It stars Talia Ryder (Never Rarely Sometimes Always) as a contemporary Alice in Wonderland, a student on a dreamlike road trip, satirising US subcultures.

Down the US Rabbit Hole

by Alexa Dalby

The Sweet East

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Award-winning cinematographer Sean Price Williams has worked with directors such as the Safdie Brothers, Michael Almereyda and Alex Ross Perry (who is a producer). His first film as director, The Sweet East, satirises the crumbling, post-Trump US in its many forms.

In The Sweet East a savvy high-school student Lillian (Talia Ryder), a blank slate, drifts away from a school trip to Washington DC (the White House in the background). On her strange and potentially dangerous road trip northward along the eastern states she encounters an ultimately aimless anarchist (Earl Cave) and his housemates, a pretentious secret-Nazi liberal arts professor (Simon Rex) with a Lolita complex, New York creatives who play at progressivism (Ayo Edebiri and Jeremy O. Harris) and indie filmmaking as a whole, a soulful international Brit (heart-throb Jacob Elordi from Saltburn) and a surprisingly conservative Islamic terrorist training camp member (Rish Shah).

The Sweet East consists a series of disconnected episodes drifting back to the beginning after who knows how much time has passed. The film includes a McGuffin and a very unexpected, violent and absurd massacre. It’s held together by Lillian’s silent, chameleon-like ability to protect herself and fit in with anyone – and flee.

It all looks great thanks to the cinematography, and though the film as a whole is an interesting, state-of-the-nation image, it’s overflowing with ideas that reflect the madness it sees in America now. There’s a sense of dread as you see the guns, mass shootings, and a sense of the growth of extremist groups and the compartmentalisation of society into them. Things have fallen apart very visibly! 1969’s cult classic Medium Cool is said to be an inspiration. I think The Sweet East is another cult late-night classic in the making.

The Sweet East premiered at Cannes in the Directors’ Fortnight, screened at TIFF and is released on 22 March 2024 in the UK.

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