The Sweet East 2023

Directed by Sean Price Williams Nocturnal

A psychedelic journey through a warped America, this contemporary picaresque follows a high school runaway as she navigates oddities, dangers and delights on the road to nowhere, from cinematographer-turned-director Sean Price Williams.

Aug 14

Hollywood Avondale

USA In English
104 minutes Colour / DCP
R16
Violence, explicit sexual imagery & offensive language

Director, Cinematography

Producers

Craig Butta, Alex Coco, Alex Ross Perry

Screenplay

Nick Pinkerton

Editor

Stephen Gurewitz

Production Designer

Madeline Sadowski

Costume Designer

Jocelyn Pierce

Music

Paul Grimstad

Cast

Talia Ryder, Simon Rex, Earl Cave, Jacob Elordi, Jeremy O Harris, Ayo Edebiri, Rish Shah

Festivals

Cannes (Directors’ Fortnight), Melbourne, London, New York 2023

Elsewhere

At once wildly scrappy and laden with potent musings on modern-day societal fracture, Sean Price Williams makes the leap from cinematographer to director with this story of a winsome and headstrong high schooler named Lillian (Talia Ryder, of Never Rarely Sometimes Always and Joika) who runs away from a school trip and into a warped modern Wonderland. Said Wonderland is otherwise known as the United States of America, at once familiar and bizarre, as Lillian encounters and interacts with various cults, sects and idiosyncratic individuals all representing the country they live in and yet seemingly entirely divorced from each other’s existences. These include a group of white supremacists led by an hilariously fragile academic (Red Rocket’s Simon Rex), religious fundamentalists who express their rage through thumping EDM, a Pizzagate-esque vigilante aiming to rescue kidnapped children from a basement beneath an unassuming bar, a tabloid-famous movie star (Priscilla heartthrob Jacob Elordi) and a pair of pretentious filmmakers (Jeremy O. Harris and Ayo Edibiri, of The Bear) who immediately latch onto Lillian as their muse. Indeed, most of the wayward find something tantalising in Lillian, hungrily pursuing her with advances she both flouts and occasionally invites.

Williams has carried over plenty of learnings from his time as cinematographer for the Safdie Brothers on films including Good Time, and on Alex Ross Perry films like Queen of Earth and Listen Up Philip. His film bears much of those filmmakers’ anarchic, improvisatory independent spirit, his rich, grainy images conjuring a tetchy, vivid sense of Americana that positively coats the film. In adapting critic-turned-writer Nick Pinkerton’s acidic, entirely unsubtle scripting, the two find a fascinating oil-and-water partnership that results in a film not quite like any other in modern American cinema. It’s a film in conversation with Nabokov and Godard, Red Scare and cable news.

At once a heady love letter to the lost souls and particular madness of the American way of life and a caustic diagnosis of its many flaws and evils, The Sweet East strikes a balance between the funny, the psychedelic and the socio-politically ripe. This all folds into an electrifying performance from the waifish Ryder, holding the film’s emotional core in her searching glances. Maddening, obnoxious and intoxicating, The Sweet East is a vicious and vivacious satire for the terminally online. — Tom Augustine