Allegedly conceived and marketed as a comedy, Sweet Revenge is instead an über-’70s character study about a woman who supports herself by stealing cars, and who uses myriad fake identities to avoid being captured by authorities. It’s an odd little picture, neither funny enough to work as a comedy nor serious enough to cut very deeply as a drama, but it’s executed at a high level of skill behind and in front of the camera. So even though Sweet Revenge is sluggishly paced, tonally uneven, and generally lacking a clear sense of purpose, the film contains some mildly interesting stuff. That said, Sweet Revenge is only truly recommended for fans of one or more of the key participants, since casual viewers are likely to lose interest fairly quickly.
Stockard Channing, in one of her few leading roles, plays Vurria Kowsky, an eccentric young woman who lives in a hovel and spends her time hotwiring cars so she can sell them for cash. Her big goal in life is gaining enough wealth to buy a Ferrari. Vurria, who often uses the name “Dandy,” has accumulated a few lowlife friends, especially fellow small-time crook Edmund (Franklyn Ajaye), who drives a pimped-out car that he calls “Sweet Revenge.” Eventually, Vurria gets caught during one of her robberies, so a public defender named Le Clerq (Sam Waterston) is assigned to her case. Much of the film depicts his attempts to help her, even as she pushes him away with pathological dishonesty stemming from her generalized distrust of authority. In a meandering and shapeless way, Sweet Revenge tells the story of an outsider learning how to rejoin society, but viewers are likely to feel the way Le Clerq does, which is moderately sympathetic until Vurria lies about having an abusive background. Put bluntly, she ain’t got no class.
Had the filmmakers treated this material dramatically, Sweet Revenge could have evolved into a tough little piece about a driven individual creating a private world outside of society’s restrictions, but because the approach is quasi-lighthearted, everything feels pointless and superficial. After all, a comedy without laughs isn’t really much of anything. Perhaps the strangest aspect of Sweet Revenge is the participation of director Jerry Schatzberg, whose previous films—including The Panic in Needle Park (1971) and Scarecrow (1973)—were gritty dramas. Schatzberg’s collaborator on Scarecrow, masterful cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, shot Sweet Revenge with his signature blend of elegance and moodiness, though his shadowy frames don’t quite suit the flavor of the material.
Sweet Revenge: FUNKY