The film focuses on Kay’s relationships with her boyfriend Louis, her parents and her emotionally unhealthy sister, Sweetie. Kay is quiet and superstitious, loving Louis because of the words of a fortune teller and experiencing deep foreboding towards a tree he attempted to plant in their yard. Sweetie, from Kay’s perspective, is selfish in her severe mental illness. Kay’s father chooses to ignore most of the erratic, childish behavior (though she has been hospitalized before) because he loves her as a little girl.
Throughout, there are flashbacks of Sweetie dancing, singing and performing small, circus-like tricks with his assistance; he wants the family to remain close and dislikes when Kay acts enraged with Sweetie. The mother admits he indulges her. Louis, however, has found some freedom from his increasingly disconnected relationship with Kay because Sweetie lives uninhibited, with vigor and emotion (though extreme).
Throughout, Sweetie’s physically destructive nature (ruining Kay’s clothes, breaking furniture) reflects the inner disruption she has caused her family. After a series of circular fights (variable rage and delusions, her family’s forgiveness, proceeded by her sweetness and fun persona), she finally overextends the limit, stripping off her clothes, painting her body black and bouncing in her childhood tree house.
Though her family begs her to come down, she refuses, continuing teasing, tormenting and shaking the fort until it falls from the tree, injuring her mother and killing Sweetie. The family appears resolved, no longer scattered. They no longer feel manipulated and agitated by her presence. However, the best of Sweetie’s personality persists, as Kay and her parents maintain an image of her in her most accurate form, that of a little girl.
Directed by: Jane Campion
Starring: Genevieve Lemon, Karen Colston, Tom Lycos, Dorothy Barry, Jon Darling, Michael Lake, Andre Pataczek, Jean Hadgraft, Paul Livingston, Ann Merchant
Screenplay by: Jane Campion, Gerard Lee
Cinematography by: Sally Bongers
Film Editing by: Veronika Jenet
Costume Design by: Amanda Lovejoy
Art Direction by: Peter Harris
Music by: Martin Armiger
Distributed by: Filmpac Distribution, Avenue Pictures Productions
Release Date: October 6, 1989