The holiday romance coming-of-ager is the genre that’s given writer-director Marley Morrison her likable feature debut. And if you thought Ammonite was going to be this year’s only gay love story set in Dorset, think again. AJ (Nell Barlow) is a smart, intense, socially difficult and lonely teen who wears a bucket hat and aviator shades, and whose overbearing mum Tina (Jo Hartley) still insists on calling her by her childhood name of “April”, unfortunately abbreviated to “Ape”. In a fiercely misjudged attempt to get AJ to cheer up and buck up, she insists on taking her on an old-fashioned family getaway to a holiday park in Dorset, along with her younger sister Dayna (Tabitha Byron), pregnant older sister Lucy (Sophia di Martino) and Lucy’s easygoing partner Steve (Samuel Anderson).
Grumpy, defiant and unconvinced by her mum’s self-congratulatory and ostentatious rejection of homophobia, AJ retreats behind her headphones and her book – but then she sees the charismatic and glamorous lifeguard Isla (Ella-Rae Smith) by the pool, who seems to be really attracted to her. But Isla also, worryingly, seems to have no shortage of attractive but stupid guys hanging around her.
The resulting spark is the kind of miracle that maybe really only happens in the movies, but it doesn’t stop this being a good-natured love story, doomed to flower and fade in the space of a single holiday, leaving behind the traditional coming-of-age realisation that friends and family are what’s important right now. Morrison makes good use of the faintly weird locations of the holiday park and its static caravans. (Claire Oakley’s recent film Make Up used a holiday park for a horror film.) And Hartley has a nice line when she looks sadly at AJ and murmurs, almost to herself: “You don’t half look like your dad … ”
Sweetheart is released on 24 September in cinemas.