Sugar Baby

(The 2018 SXSW Film Festival kicked off March 9 and ran all the way through to March 17. Hammer to Nail has a slew of reviews and interviews coming in hot and heavy so keep your dial tuned to HtN!)

A fan of Nora Ephron’s writing, Blake Conway (Jessica Barden) is trying to build a career in journalism as a romance columnist for her university’s publication. The problem is, most males in college are still boys. Blake wants courtship and romance, something most college boys seem utterly incapable of. As a product of divorced parents, Blake is fairly pessimistic about the possibility of experiencing love. Online dating apps certainly don’t help with that since those drain the excitement of establishing that initial connection organically. It could also be said that dating apps have made people lazier daters. When is the last time you’ve been swept off your feet by someone you swiped right on Tinder? Exactly.

Wanting to win the Hunter S. Thompson Gonzo Journalism Award in order to pay off her debt, Blake decides to explore the world of sugar babies. Whether she plans it or not, Blake ends up going full immersion, seeing a client (Timm Sharp) who is over twice her age. And while the allure of sugar babies is the lack of attachment and drama (not to mention their age), Blake finds herself unable to remain completely detached. That is not to say Blake has sex with her client and becomes enamored or obsessed with him, but sex seems to mean something to her. Regardless, Blake remains in control the entire time. When Blake steps over the proverbial line, she is only doing something her client did the day before. The problem is, their business relationship is not based on equality; so when Blake does it, her client considers it to be an infringement.

Writer-director Carly Stone’s The New Romantic excels in its representation of Blake as someone who expresses her individuality both sexually and mentally. Blake never wavers from being herself. She is not driven by petty emotions or sexual desires. Her primary motivations are establishing a successful career and financial independence. Sex is neither transactional, nor meaningless to her. And although The New Romantic is essentially about sugar babies, its representation of sex is by no means gratuitous.

If The New Romantic was directed by a male, it would most likely be a male fantasy flick. Sure, that might be a rash over-generalization about the incompetency of male directors, but how many films about college women dating much older men have been handled tactfully by men? In Stone’s hands, though, the film realistically captures the protagonist’s motivation to become a sugar baby, without exploiting her in any way. Unfortunately, that is still a novel concept in Hollywood, but hopefully as more female directors are given opportunities to share their perspectives on screen, films like The New Romantic will become the norm rather than the independent outlier.

– Don Simpson (@thatdonsimpson)

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