Sweet Parents is streaming on Prime

There’s an old story, one where a couple goes to the big city. These two have an artistic way about them. They’re enchanted by the lights, the energy, the seemingly limitless possibilities. They look at each other and agree that one way or another, they can make a life here. It won’t be easy, since hardly anything ever is. But it’s possible.

There’s another story, one that’s far less popular. The same couple gets chewed up and spit out by the big city, a place that allows for very few mistakes. Their dreams? Crushed. Their hopes? Dashed. Those starry eyes have been replaced by bitterness and a sense that, if only someone, the right someone had stepped in to help, they could have made it.

A vast gulf exists between the idea of a sugar daddy and patronage. At least, there should be a vast gulf, right? With a sugar daddy/sugar momma situation, an older person throws money, gifts, influence, and more at a younger person with the expectation of an intimate relationship. Patrons, however, throw money, gifts, influence, and more at a younger artist with the expectation of…also an intimate relationship?

Therein lies the rub. The phrase “intimate relationship” doesn’t only mean what we all think it means. Like Bill Clinton’s verbal judo concerning the word “is”, the concept of an intimate relationship can mean a great many things. So what happens when a young couple who feels like they’re on their way out runs into that thorny dilemma? That’s when you get the low-key and perceptive drama Sweet Parents.

She wants to sculpt for a living. Her name is Gabby (Leah Rudick), and when she’s not in a soul-killing office job, she’s sculpting perceptive pieces about the human form. Her boyfriend is Will (David Bly), and when he’s not working in a series of short-order cook jobs and getting screamed at by cretinous managers, he dreams of owning his own restaurant.

They have talent, which is a good thing. Talent can only carry a person so far, and after living in New York City in an apartment that’s slightly larger than a cat box — for eight years — Gabby and Will start to wonder if they have come to the end of their artistic road. A chance encounter with a friend of a friend changes their trajectory. He explains to them that he forms what could potentially be called “relationships” with wealthy older people. In exchange for sex, he receives a comfortable living arrangement.

With a dash of self-righteousness, Will is shocked, shocked, that anyone would do such a thing. Gabby doesn’t take any of it seriously until she meets Oscar (Casey Biggs), an older architectural virtuoso. The two of them hit it off. He believes in her work. She realizes that he can push her sculpting career into the stratosphere. So begins a stress test for Gabby and Will’s relationship, which absorbs even more stress when Will meets Guylaine (Barbara Weetman), a corporate wheeler-dealer who thinks Will has what it takes to headline his own restaurant.

There’s so much I love about being a critic. One of my favorite aspects is when a filmmaker runs with an idea that, on its face, sounds terrible and coaxes out something complex and honest. David Bly has been working in independent film for a number of years now, clearly learning how to tell a story on a smaller budget and how to avoid the tropes of Hollywood films. Sweet Parents is his feature debut as a director, a film made with quiet confidence. While many first time filmmakers try to dazzle the audience with show-offy shots or edits, Bly knows that the story he’s telling is enough. He takes his time introducing these characters and their relationships, allowing scenes to develop in just the right amount of time. Just when you start to feel that the pacing is getting a bit laggy, he’ll introduce a story or character element that picks it back up.

Speaking of story, the screenplay by Bly and co-star Leah Rudick is exceptionally well-written in terms of both tone and character. The first few minutes of the film sets us up to believe we’re watching a quiet comedy about a couple getting in over their heads. As the story progresses, Gabby and Will make choices instead of being swept along by the plot. Like their choices or not, you always understand why the characters make them and where their motivations are. Those choices lead to jealousy. Not from a sexual standpoint, but from a belief that the last chance to change their lives is in front of them, and from the speed that a relationship can change when a new element is introduced.

We talk about how critical chemistry is in terms of making a film work. This is no exception, and Rudick and Bly give performances that make Gabby and Will feel like real people. They’re both intelligent and brave actors, and the choices they make reveal certain sides of their characters and hide others. We see moments of tenderness, selfishness, fear, and much more. They’re well supported by Casey Biggs as the suave Oscar and Barbara Weetman’s perceptive performance as Guylaine.

Sweet Parents tells us a story of a couple on the verge of giving up, the choices they make that might get them what they always wanted, and the risk they run of annihilating their relationship. I’m pleased to see a film that has something to say, and says it in a way that’s intelligent and elegant.

Tim has been alarmingly enthusiastic about movies ever since childhood. He grew up in Boulder and, foolishly, left Colorado to study Communications in Washington State. Making matters worse, he moved to Connecticut after meeting his too-good-for-him wife. Drawn by the Rockies and a mild climate, he triumphantly returned and settled down back in Boulder County. He's written numerous screenplays, loves hiking, and embarrassed himself in front of Samuel L. Jackson. True story.