At the Frameline Festival: One of those horrible everyone-has-to-go family getaways

‘Sweetheart’ is a very satisfying comedy-drama. Also at the festival: ‘North By Current,’ a doc about a religious family’s struggles to come to terms with sex, sexuality and death.

Sweetheart. Credit: Frameline

Ah, the misery of going on holiday with your family when you’re 17 years old. My parents inflicted said punishment on me, I in turn duly inflicted it upon my child, and Sweetheart (playing at this year’s Frameline Festival) depicts the horrors of the everyone-has-to-go family getaway with disturbing accuracy.

Mum Tina (Jo Hartley) has brought teenage April (Nell Barlow) along for a week at Freshwaters Holiday Camp, one of those uniquely (and once massively popular) British seaside destinations that have undergone a minor renaissance of late. April — who prefers to go by the name A.J. — loved Freshwater as a 9-year old child but is distinctly unimpressed as a 17-year old lesbian.

Like most teenagers, A.J. is going through a rough patch: her parents are separated, her love life non-existent, and older sister Lucy (Sophia di Martino) — dubbed “the pregnant princess of Dunstable” by her younger sibling — distressingly perfect. In fact, A.J. doesn’t really enjoy the company of any of her family, with the possible exception of Lucy’s boyfriend Steve (Samuel Anderson).

Love blooms when A.J. meets lifeguard Isla (Ella-Rae Smith), and suddenly Freshwaters doesn’t seem quite so bad — until the new relationship hits bumpy waters. While Sweetheart doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises, it’s a very satisfying comedy-drama, and good fun for the whole family — including your teenagers.


North By Current. Credit: Frameline

As usual, documentaries are well represented at Frameline, and if there’s a must-see doc on this year’s program, North By Current is it. In common with Bo McGuire’s Socks on Fire (which I sadly haven’t had an opportunity to review yet), it’s a cinematic tone poem about a religious family’s struggles to come to terms with sex, sexuality and death. There’s sadness and tragedy in director Angelo Madsen Minax’s film, but also redemption and reconciliation.

P.S. Burn This Letter Please opens a long-forgotten trunk full of letters (shades of Dear Mr. Brody!) revealing the inner lives of half a dozen Big Apple drag queens circa the late 1950s. Directors Michael Seligman and Jennifer Tiexiera managed to locate several now octogenarian and nonagenarian survivors of the drag scene; their testimony is revealing, moving, and sometimes hilarious.

Fanny: The Right to Rock. Credit: Frameline

Fanny: The Right to Rock tells the story of the titular ‘70s rock band — and that story is, frankly, more interesting than their fairly lumpen hard rock. While I’ve been aware of the band for decades, the details had eluded me until now, and though The Right to Rock misattributes the title “first self-contained female rock group” to them (an odd error, considering one of the band had previously played with The Pleasure Seekers, who beat Fanny to the title by several years), they were certainly unique in several other respects. Anyone interested in ‘70s rock will want to check this one out.

Swan Song. Credit: Frameline

Finally, I can’t let Swan Song pass without a brief mention. Though awkwardly directed by Todd Stephens, it’s a marvelous showcase for legendary German character actor Udo Kier, here cast as a Sandusky, Ohio, hairdresser summoned from his nursing home to fix a client’s hair and make-up. The only hitch: she’s dead. Channeling a little Quentin Crisp in his performance, Kier is riveting; He makes an otherwise slapdash film a worthwhile watch.

Founded in 1977, the San Francisco International LGBTQ+ Film Festival (Frameline) is the longest-running, largest and most widely recognized LGBTQ+ film exhibition event in the world.