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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 40.63%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 3.13%
Total Crap: 3.13%

3 reviews, 14 user ratings

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Sweet Sixteen (2002)
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by Joe Cooper

"Sweet Sixteen is a striking film that tells a timely story."
4 stars

With his mother in jail, his self-appointed stepfather pushing heroin, and his cantankerous grandfather still smarting over his plums being caught on a barbed wire fence, it’s not easy for teenager Liam to achieve his dream of domestic bliss. Sweet Sixteen is the not so sugary tale of a 15 year old boy and his desperate, against-the-odds pursuit of happiness.

As a perpetual truant, Liam (Martin Compston) whiles away his time on the rough streets of Glasgow, Scotland peddling contraband cigarettes and staging pranks with his aimless friends. Unlike his friends though, Liam has something to look forward to, and a dream he’s determined to fulfil. In a few weeks time, his Mum, Jean (Michelle Coulter), will be released from prison, and it’s Liam’s most fervent desire that they begin a new life together, full of happiness and free of the heroin that tore them apart in the first place.

However, Jean’s pusher and abusive boyfriend, Stan (Gary McCormack), is heavily opposed to Liam’s plans. The ruthless and violent drug dealer is determined in his own way to shape a future for Jean; one that sees her back on the ‘gear’ and at his beck and call. With the big day looming, Liam finds himself driven to extraordinary lengths, along an unexpected career path, in a desperate attempt to provide his mother with a viable alternative to Stan’s ‘hospitality’.

The cast of Sweet Sixteen is an interesting one, and adheres to director Ken Loach’s unorthodox approach to filmmaking. For the lead role, Loach scoured audition halls for months before selecting an absolute beginner in Martin Compston. The 17 year old Compston, who only auditioned after being pestered by his father, was initially far more interested in performing on the soccer field than in front of a camera. In fact, such were his ambitions, he’d already signed with Morton Football Club in Scotland’s Second Division.

Despite Compston’s complete lack of acting experience, his performance as the energetic and determined Liam is remarkable. As well as being able to hold the viewer’s attention with an entertaining ‘jack-the-lad’ persona, Compston was also able to convey the full spectrum of darker emotions that the plot’s twists and turns sometimes demanded of his character. Director Ken Loach’s gamble paid off handsomely, with Sweet Sixteen richer for Compston’s presence.

Sweet Sixteen’s script also holds tremendous merit, and was a deserving winner of the Best Screenplay award at Cannes in 2002 for screenwriter Paul Laverty. The script has a clear air of authenticity and (as a strange compliment) doesn’t sacrifice its ‘Scottishness’ in pursuit of comprehension by the audience. Thanks to the use of subtitles, the audience can still understand the dialogue, as well as enjoy the incredibly thick accents and the Scottish knack of incorporating a startling amount of swearing and insults into friendly, casual conversations. As a word of caution, Sweet Sixteen contains very strong language.

Whilst not likely to roar up the billboards, Sweet Sixteen’s soundtrack does contain some memorable tracks that help drive the plot. Touching moments are captured by such endearing tracks as The Pretenders’ ‘I’ll Stand By You’, and the film’s more celebratory scenes bounce along nicely to the sounds of Sub Sub’s ‘Ain’t No Love (Aint No Use)’ and Robbie Williams’ royalty churning ‘Let Me Entertain You’. Throw in the Manic Street Preachers, Clawfinger, and some distinctive classical tunes, and it’s a reasonably interesting soundtrack to remember the film by.

Part Trainspotting, part Once Were Warriors, and part Oliver Twist, the ironically titled Sweet Sixteen falls very much into the category of a gritty drama, despite its laughs and its flirtation with a happy ending. Well worth seeing.

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originally posted: 04/01/03 14:55:59
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 CineVegas Film Festival. For more in the 2003 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/30/06 sean mccafferty the movie was shit hot 5 stars
5/02/06 louise law Extremely powerful 5 stars
10/03/05 janey leanne, you are so rite-liam is a goorgeo us boy but hes mine so hands off! lol jk 5 stars
6/30/04 Eric Paul A deeply disturbing yet very moving film. 5 stars
2/17/04 Géraldine the best film I've ever seen !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
12/07/03 laura lenaghan amazing 5 stars
9/17/03 Jens Loved the humor, dialect and deept of the characters 5 stars
7/09/03 Michael stevens The film is shit 2 stars
5/20/03 Dick SUCKS 1 stars
5/08/03 Laura Stevens Hard-hitting and emotive. A true insight into teenage life 4 stars
4/10/03 Tresano great, incredible, go watch it already people 5 stars
4/05/03 charmed it`s very interesting for me 5 stars
3/22/03 Matthew Smith a powerful film, superbly acted and blessed with larrikin scottish humour. 5 stars
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