Sweet Sixteen


Directed by: Ken Loach
Written by:Paul Laverty
Starring: Martin Compston, Annmarie Fulton, William Ruane, Michelle Abercromby, Michelle Coulter, Gary McCormack, Tommy McKee
Released: March 27, 2003
Grade: A-

Liam’s life has been riddled with trouble.  At the impressionable age of 15, his parents have been everything but the loving family members one needs.  His step-father, Stan (McCormack), is a small-time drug dealer/user who still lives with his own dad.  Both treat Liam (Compston) with utter distaste and see him more as a potential dealer than a son.  His mother, Jean (Coulter), is serving time in prison for drug use but is due for release in a few months.

Banned from school, Liam’s life consists largely of hanging around with his older sister, Chantelle (Fulton), who is now a single mother, and his best friend Pinball (Ruane).  All their lives are heading nowhere but the platform they were all given by the parents gave them almost no hope to begin with.

With his sixteenth birthday approaching, Liam yearns to create the loving family setting he’s always dreamed of.  There’s a small caravan with a seaside view on the market for 6,000 pounds.  If he could find the money to make this purchase, it would impress his mother, she would move in with both him and his sister, dump the abusive husband, and all would be perfect for the first time.

With the best intentions, Liam turns to the drug industry to fund his purchase.  He initially steals drugs from his father to sell on the open market but impressed by the eagerness of this kid, a big-time drug lord asks Liam to join his “organisation”.  The financial troubles are soon solved but his new employment and the release of his mother brings new problems for which the unsuspecting Liam is not prepared for.

Over the past few weeks, there’s been a wave of films released which first premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.  The Pianist won the top prize with Punch-Drunk Love winning best director.  Sweet Sixteen took home the best screenplay award and appears worthy of the honour.  There’s a noticeable lack of stereotypes and predictable plot developments.  Liam is a good decent kid but some of the ill-informed decisions he makes will leave you squirming with discomfort.  The ending is surprising but not because it’s unrealistic, but rather because it is.  Few films dig so deeply as this by Ken Loach.

Filmed in Glasgow, the thick Scottish accents will be too much for any viewer.  Thankfully, subtitles are provided just as they were for Loach’s last film, My Name Is Joe.  Interestingly, both Joe and Sweet Sixteen debuted here at the Brisbane International Film Festival and both made the top ten list as voted by the audience.  Loach is a strong filmmaker who is taking his own slice of home and exposing it to the world.