MANILA, PHILIPPINES — Since Jason Momoa exploded into superstardom after appearing as Khal Drogo on Game of Thrones and as Aquaman in the DC movies, he has become the epitome of masculinity onscreen. His physique, his long hair, and beard all reinforce that perception, and he has embraced that image to achieve worldwide fame. Momoa, however, turns those perceptions on their head on his Netflix film Sweet Girl.
The film begins with Ray Cooper (Momoa) on the roof of PNC Park, the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team. He has been chased to the roof by law enforcement agents and is on the run, but to avoid the law, Ray jumps into the nearby Allegheny River instead. This leads to a flashback that shows Ray, his wife Amanda (Adria Arjona), and daughter Rachel (Isabela Merced) as a tightknit family.
When Amanda gets a rare form of cancer, Ray finds out that a potentially life-saving drug was pulled off the market before treatment was about to begin. This was done by the pharmaceutical company BioPrime and its CEO, Simon Keeley (Justin Bartha), who paid the manufacturer to delay production and eat into their profits. Ray sees Keeley debating Congresswoman Diana Morgan (Amy Brenneman) on TV and he calls in to say that he will kill Keeley for his actions. Amanda succumbs to the cancer, devastating Ray and Rachel.
Six months later, Ray receives a call from journalist Martin Bennett (Nelson Franklin), who claims that he has proof that BioPrime was involved in criminal activities. When Ray leaves to meet Bennett on the subway, he isn’t aware that Rachel followed him. As Bennett is about to share information about BioPrime’s bribery of anyone who questions their actions, he is stabbed by a hitman named Santos (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo). He also stabs Ray and knocks Rachel out cold.
After two years, Rachel is shown training to fight in a gym while Ray has been tracking Keeley’s movements. Rachel disapproves of her father’s actions, but he doesn’t listen and even poses as a waiter at a charity event that the CEO attends. Ray’s confrontation with Keeley doesn’t end well and the Coopers end up on the run while trying to find the people responsible for the dissolution of their family.
Merced first gained fame two years ago, appearing as Dora the Explorer in the live-action Dora and the Lost City of Gold, and could easily have used that fame to appear in other youth-oriented fares. By going in the opposite direction and embracing the action scenes in Sweet Girl, Merced definitely goes against type, just as Momoa does in this role.
The father-daughter relationship between Ray and Rachel is at the core of the film, something which Momoa embraces, having children of his own. Although it can be argued that this motion picture directed by Brian Andrew Mendoza and written by Philip Eisner and Gregg Hurwitz mislead the audience when the big plot twist happens in the latter part of Sweet Girl, it actually ends up being the most memorable part of the experience.
The whole audience, after all, basically expects Momoa to play the avenging angel that many action stars of the past have done over the decades. He’s supposed to get revenge for his dead wife and protect his daughter from evil companies, possibly dropping a witty line or two like Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Willis, etc. did back in the day. Instead, his Ray Cooper takes a backseat to daughter Rachel’s own vengeance.
Big pharmaceutical companies have never been more in the spotlight than they do now because of the global pandemic. Thus, the BioPrime plot and the characters of Keeley, BioPrime chairman Vinod Shah (Raza Jaffrey), and the ultimately dirty Congresswoman Morgan are viewed as more reprehensible for their self-serving actions. With the worldwide need for vaccines to battle not just COVID-19 but all kinds of disease, pharmaceutical companies, and their distributors can be easily viewed as villainous entities who don’t really care about people but care more about their financial statements.
That aforementioned twist basically comes out of nowhere and ultimately makes Rachel Cooper a tragic figure. She has the courage to face the killer Santos, and face off against people coming after her, but she is also vulnerable and calls FBI Agent Sarah Meeker (Lex Scott Davis) almost trying to confess for her crimes. Yet it is her commitment to making the people who took her parents from her and leaving her alone in the world that ultimately drive her to finish the job.
That bit of misdirection that the filmmakers use to draw in the audience might not sit well with the audience watching this on Netflix, but it is also what separates Sweet Girl from other action thrillers. It is a story about vengeance, it is also a story about post traumatic stress disorder and dissociative identity disorder, although that is not explored enough even as the film ended.