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[Slamdance ’23] ‘Sweetheart Deal’ review: Powerful and upsetting documentary with shocking twist

Very bleak.

Sweetheart Deal is a grim documentary screening at the Slamdance Film Festival that looks at the lives of four sex workers in Seattle. Caught in a world of violence and addiction, the women turn to a self-proclaimed healer who provides friendship and help from his roadside RV. But as they work to rebuild their lives, a shocking betrayal changes them all.

Filmmakers Elisa Levine and Gabriel Miller employ a no holds barred approach that leads to powerful moments. This makes for an often difficult watch as Sweetheart Deal shows the dark realities of what each person is going through. Things get incredibly bleak before there is even a hint of a better tomorrow. Even then, there is a constant sense of hopelessness as they try to escape the streets.

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Sweetheart Deal does not end at just following the women. Elliot is the Good Samaritan who is there to help them through everything. From early on, each scene with him is an uneasy one. This includes a conversation with a Seattle Times reporter that seems off. This additional element separates the film from similar documentaries. Along with the everyday hardships, there is an additional layer of manipulation. Everything culminates in a stomach turning twist that is not entirely surprising, but sad, nonetheless.

[Slamdance '23] 'Sweetheart Deal' review: Powerful and upsetting documentary with shocking twist

Through it all, there is a sense of camaraderie amongst the women. As one of them puts it, they may not like each other, but they keep each other alive. As Sweetheart Deal progresses, the audience watches how they lean on each other for support. There are no easy answers in the film. Even as some things seem to get better, the future remains uncertain. Sweetheart Deal is a powerful and upsetting watch but as someone points out, even when there are not happy endings, there are at least acceptable ones.

Slamdance 2023 will take place in-person from January 20-26 in Park City and Salt Lake City, Utah and virtually from January 23-29

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