In 1973, Swedish psychologist Nils Bejerot coined the phrase “Stockholm syndrome” to describe a psychological condition in which hostages form positive bonds with their captors.
Karoline Herfurth’s 2019 film Sweethearts takes this phenomenon and uses it as the basis for a ‘romantic comedy’ which is, perhaps unsurprisingly, neither romantic nor particularly funny.
The film follows the story of Franny (Herfurth), a Berlin office worker who suffers from debilitating panic attacks. After being asked to take time off work to deal with them, she is taken hostage by low-level criminal Mel (Hannah Herzsprung) following an ill-fated diamond robbery. This then devolves into a questionably consensual Thelma & Louise-style road-trip as the pair try to evade the police and pay back a Berlin crime gang, whose leader has close personal ties with Mel.
At its best, Herfuth’s film is a tonally confused, but extremely artfully shot crime thriller. Daniel Gottschalk’s cinematography provides glorious wide-angle shots of all aspects of the seedy Berlin underworld and features epic Matrix-style action sequences that The Wachowskis themselves would be proud of.
However, at its worst the film borders on truly offensive. The issues inherent in Franny performing an erotic dance on top of an unconscious, handcuffed police officer to the dulcet tones of Foreigner’s iconic 1984 power ballad ‘I Want to Know What Love Is’, probably don’t need to be explained.
The same can be said for the film’s attitude towards Franny’s panic attacks, which seem to come and go at any given point to suit the film’s plot. The most baffling part of this entire situation is that there are so many opportunities for the film to tackle this issue, but they are consistently squandered. There is one early scene during which the entire conversation revolves around getting help and not suffering through things alone. This is later referenced in terms of helping Mel out of her predicament, but somehow totally avoids any relation to Franny’s. A decision which is, frankly, more than a little bit irresponsible.
As far as female-led crime thrillers go, Sweethearts is a good effort. As far as responsible and principled filmmaking goes, it is far less so.