The most interesting thing about Sweet Nothing isn’t the movie, but rather its source.
Based on an anonymous journal found in a Bronx apartment, Sweet Nothing follows the donwfall of a hard-working family man (Michael Imperioli) as he becomes addicted to crack cocaine. We first see Angel with his wife, Monika (Mira Sorvino), as she gives birth to their second child. Even though the baby girl will stretch the couple’s already thin budget nearly beyond their means, Angel can’t help but beam with pride. That night, while out celebrating with his friend Raymond, Angel tries crack for the first time. If you think this comes out of nowhere in a plot summary, imagine how it plays on film. Yet the scene is just the first of many implausibilities that undermine the potency Sweet Nothing could have had.
After that first experience with crack, Angel and Raymond begin selling the drug for supplemental income. It also brings supplemental pleasure. Before long, Angel is smoking his own product away, as Monika – momentarily calmed by pearl necklaces, fancy dinners and Angel’s promise that he’ll soon quit – looks the other way. As Angel gives in to his addiction, Raymond builds his business into a ruthless gang syndicate.
Paul Calderon is stuck with this schizophrenic role, playing a family friend of Angel and Monika’s in one scene and their worst enemy in the next. But neither the bear hugs Calderon gives to their kids at the beginning of the film nor the New Jack City gangster act he later adopts has enough subtlety to make Raymond real. When Angel and Raymond finally clash, Sweet Nothing becomes a conventional thriller. As the clock runs down, Angel must kick his habit, regain the trust of his family, and come up with enough money to pay off his debts to Raymond.
Imperioli’s intensity is reminiscent of a young Al Pacino.
Still, within these conventions, Sweet Nothing puts on a good show. The New York setting has the constant gray haze of impending rain and the subdued lighting is as dim as the characters’ lives. Both qualities give the movie a visual identity of its own. In what could have been a throwaway role, Oscar-winner Mira Sorvino brings a surprising gravity to the character of Monika. And as Angel, Michael Imperioli demands attention, even if he can’t pull of the improbability of that early scene. His intensity is reminiscent of a young Al Pacino, but in the scenes with the children he also has an attractive, affable charm.
Sweet Nothing is structured as a flashback, with Angel re-reading his diary in a rehab center. Presumably, the confessions and observations he shares come from that journal found in the Bronx. At one point Angel explains that crack allows you “to be unafraid, even if it is for a brief moment.” We need to be sold on the movie as much as Angel is on the drug. For the most part we’re not, making Sweet Nothing a fictional adaptation that fails to match the drama of its source.