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Sweetie (1989 film)

Sweetie is a 1989 Australian drama film directed by Jane Campion, and starring Genevieve Lemon, Karen Colston, Tom Lycos, and Jon Darling. Co-written by Campion and Gerard Lee, the film documents the contentious relationship between a twenty-something year old, her family, and her emotionally unstable sister. It was Jane Campion's first feature film. It was entered into the 1989 Cannes Film Festival.[1]

Film poster
Directed byJane Campion
Produced byJohn Maynard
Written byJane Campion
Gerard Lee
  • Genevieve Lemon
  • Karen Colston
  • Tom Lycos
  • Dorothy Barry
  • Jon Darling
  • Michael Lake
Music byMartin Armiger
CinematographySally Bongers
Edited byVeronika Jenet
Distributed byFilmpac Distribution
Avenue Pictures Productions
Release date
  • 28 September 1989 (1989-09-28) (AU)
  • 6 October 1989 (1989-10-06) (NY Film Festival)
Running time
97 minutes


The film focuses on Kay's relationships with her boyfriend Louis, her parents and her emotionally unhealthy sister, Sweetie. Kay is quiet and superstitious, loving Louis because of the words of a fortune teller and experiencing deep foreboding towards a tree he attempted to plant in their yard. Sweetie, from Kay's perspective, is selfish in her severe mental illness. Kay's father chooses to ignore most of the erratic, childish behavior (though she has been hospitalized before) because he loves her as a little girl. Throughout, there are flashbacks of Sweetie dancing, singing and performing small, circus-like tricks with his assistance; he wants the family to remain close and dislikes when Kay acts enraged with Sweetie. The mother admits he indulges her. Louis, however, has found some freedom from his increasingly disconnected relationship with Kay because Sweetie lives uninhibited, with vigor and emotion (though extreme). Throughout, Sweetie's physically destructive nature (ruining Kay's clothes, breaking furniture) reflects the inner disruption she has caused her family. After a series of circular fights (variable rage and delusions, her family's forgiveness, proceeded by her sweetness and fun persona), she finally overextends the limit, stripping off her clothes, painting her body black and bouncing in her childhood tree house. Though her family begs her to come down, she refuses, continuing teasing, tormenting and shaking the fort until it falls from the tree, injuring her mother and killing Sweetie. The family appears resolved, no longer scattered. They no longer feel manipulated and agitated by her presence. However, the best of Sweetie's personality persists, as Kay and her parents maintain an image of her in her most accurate form, that of a little girl.



Campion wanted to make a low budget contemporary feature. She came up with the character and she and Gerard Lee started writing in February 1987 and finished in May.[2] The film was shot in Sydney.

Release and receptionEdit

In Australian Film, 1978-1994, it is described as "a ghastly parody of the tyranny of family life".[3]

The DVD version, released by the Criterion Collection includes three of Campion's earlier short films.

Film-maker Carol Morley cites Sweetie as her favourite film on Radio 4's The Film Programme (25 October 2018). She views Campion as her greatest influence. Campion is a surprise guest on the programme and says that Phillip French of The Observer found the film "disgusting" and adds that "an Italian guy" interviewed and asked why she had had to make a film that was "so dirty".

Box officeEdit

Sweetie grossed $337,680 at the box office in Australia.[4]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Sweetie". Retrieved 1 August 2009.
  2. ^ Philippa Hawker, "Jane Campion", Cinema Papers, May 1989 p29-30
  3. ^ Murray, Scott (editor), Australian Film, 1978-1994, Oxford, 1995. ISBN 0-19-553777-7
  4. ^ "Australian Films at the Australian Box Office" (PDF). Film Victoria. p. 21. Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 March 2011.

External linksEdit