With Sweet Girl, Netflix continues its streak of producing the kinds of mid-budget thrillers popular in previous decades but rare on movie theater marquees these days.
Like Triple Frontier, Wasp Network, Beckett, Earthquake Bird, The Last Thing He Wanted, and more, Sweet Girl has the kind of appeal that Netflix knows how to handle.
The film, which comes out today, blends elements of revenge thriller and political drama to tell an intimate family story with national implications. At its best, Sweet Girl evokes 1993’s The Fugitive, with some touches of Death Wish and Taken.
It’s a little clumsy at times, but with some tight direction, gritty action scenes, and a strong main cast, Sweet Girl is worth checking out.
Sweet Girl stumbles but gets back up
When Ray Cooper (Jason Momoa) learns that the generic version of a life-saving cancer drug has been pulled due to Big Pharma interference, he reaches his limit. His wife’s death sentence effectively signed for profit, he takes matters into his own hands. Now on the run with his 18-year-old daughter, Rachel, he’s finding out that responsibility runs deep.
With a gubernatorial election on the horizon and dangerous people with blood on their hands, Ray has to balance getting justice for his wife and keeping his daughter safe.
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Sweet Girl has some trouble getting off the ground. Opening with some hokey voice-over narration by star Jason Momoa, it stumbles through a fair amount of weak dialogue. And when Ray, a guy without much money or any political influence, gains seemingly easy access to the halls of power, you have to wonder how the invulnerable CEOs of major corporations who have unstoppable hitmen on speed dial are so accessible to members of the general public. To people who’d like nothing more than to wring their necks.
And yet Sweet Girl works. Mostly. When you get past a few wonky plot points and weird creative choices, it’s a sharp little action movie. It’ll keep you guessing through some pretty wild twists and turns.
Of particular note are the gritty fight scenes. Shot with an eye for coherent action and hits that land with a bang, first-time feature director Brian Andrew Mendoza skips the chaotic fast cuts and big CGI theatrics for something smaller but with way more heart and soul.
Momoa is a born movie star
One of the strongest elements of Sweet Girl is its star, Jason Momoa. Known more for the campy charm of Aquaman and the grim brutality of Game of Thrones and See, Momoa has depth and gravitas that he doesn’t always get credit for. He commands the screen as an obvious leading man in Sweet Girl.
Jason Momoa balances his action-star intensity with moments of genuine vulnerability.
Even with his superhero build, an obvious drawback when playing a regular Joe, he imbues Ray with a vulnerability that sells his grief and need to protect those he loves. His chemistry with Isabela Merced and Adria Arjona, playing his daughter Rachel and wife Amanda, respectively, is pitch-perfect too. Whatever faults the film has, we immediately care about Ray and his plight.
It also doesn’t hurt that Ray isn’t just a regular guy working an office job until he snaps. He’s rough around the edges, and we see him at his local MMA gym, training with Rachel. The Coopers are hardcore, so when they hit the road, we can believe they know how to fend for themselves. It’s just a small detail, but it’s valuable character work that makes the whole plot easier to take.
A hero to root for
Momoa’s star persona works perfectly with his righteous-husband-on-a-mission role as Ray. Pharmaceutical companies withholding crucial healthcare if it doesn’t help their bottom line is infuriatingly timely.
There’s added tragedy in the fact that Ray was already waiting for the generic version of an existing drug. A drug that also could have saved his wife. Instead, he scrimps and saves, re-mortgages the family home, and goes into debt only to find out even the cheaper alternative will be denied.
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I dare you not to root for Ray. And Rachel shines by his side. She sees that this is eating up her dad. Even as she deals with her own grief and comes to find her own important place in the family vendetta.
Sweet Girl can be frustrating in its conspicuous bipartisanship and everyone’s-to-blame ethos. On the other hand, it’s refreshing to see a working-class family’s politics not reduced to simple red state/blue state talking points. The Coopers’ problems are immediate and severe. They exist beyond the election cycle.
They’re fighting for their family and for their lives.
You can check out Sweet Girl on Netflix, streaming globally starting today, August 20.