Writers: David Bly and Leah Rudick
Director: David Bly
The big city is often full of promise for aspiring young couples hoping to make their mark, but it rarely works out that way. Success instead seems to come from knowing the right people to give you a leg-up as aspiring sculptor Gabby and her long-term boyfriend and chef Will discover as they try to climb the New York career ladder. David Bly’s 2017 indie film, available for digital download from 24 November, asks whether making a “necessary sacrifice” is really worth it?
When a new acquaintance recommends finding a sugar-daddy to achieve the lifestyle they dream of, Gabby and Will are disgusted by the concept. Soon, Gabby meets Oscar, a renowned architect in a café who is captivated by her work and draws her into his world with an unexpected trip to Brazil to meet fellow artists. Meanwhile, Will bounces from kitchen to kitchen until he meets Guylaine who offers to help him open the restaurant of his dreams.
Bly’s film presents a version of New York that we rarely see, away from the famous buildings and cocktails bars to the small flats and ordinary neighbourhoods that feel much more relatable. There is a small-scale quality that keeps the focus entirely on the two leads as they begin to grow apart and while Will’s trajectory in particular feels overly contrived, in tone and visual style Sweet Parents is convincingly staged.
The filming style and focus on a dual perspective is redolent of the quiet tragedy in Ned Benson’s The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby and Bly uses some of the same tropes – a focus on the ordinariness of work and home, the interior experience of his characters, and the distance that grows between Gabby and Will as their relationship slowly submerges. But Sweet Parents adds a new twist with the benefactor concept which remains nicely ambiguous about the degree of intimacy with Oscar and Guylaine.
Co-written by the lead actors Bly and Leah Rudick, there is occasionally an improvised feel to some of the conversations, often hitting the right emotional note even when scenes last a little too long or the dialogue becomes a little sticky. There are, however, some terrible music choices that intrude on the film’s carefully constructed tone during overused montage effects that show time passing and the couple embarking on different paths.
Rudick has the more empathetic role as artist Gabby who despite a standard office job spends most of the film crafting her small sculptures. Never exhibited and afraid to show them to others, we see Gabby’s confidence develop through her friendship with the suave Oscar (Casey Biggs) and the doors he is able to open for her, but in Rudick’s performance, Gabby retains an integrity and emotional connection to Will that comes to a head at a fateful dinner party.
Bly’s Will is pretty hard-headed from the start and develops far less as a character. Despite eight years living in their tiny two-room apartment, he is jealous and untrusting, even sulky when opportunity arrives for someone else. Bly develops a chemistry with both Rudkin and Barbara Weetman’s Guylaine, but Will is never a character you can truly root for.
A little long at 1 hour and 50-minutes, the story nonetheless organically develops, carrying the audience very well through most of its developments as its focuses on how intimacy between people can be created and betrayed. Only in the final stages does the film seems a little unsure of its end point. With just a handful of US Film Festival releases to its credit, Sweet Parents plays out as a much deeper film than its title and concept suggests, leaving its protagonists in a much darker place than they began.
Released digitally on 24 November 2020