Film and TV

Sweaty Betty’s Creators Squeeze Warmth from the Everyday

Don’t let that title throw you. Joe Frank and Zachary Reed’s rambling neighborhood comedy Sweaty Betty isn’t dopey or sweaty, and I don’t recall meeting anyone in it named Betty. There is a 1,000-pound hog named Miss Charlotte, decked out in Washington Redskins gear, but that vision’s just one of those things that happens in America — real people getting up to real strangeness.

The film is an improvised study of exurban life, a no-stakes hang-out pleasure starring real folks from the row houses of Cheverly and Kentland, Maryland, low-income communities between Washington, D.C., and the stadium where the Redskins play. Everyone in it is playing themselves, improvising on situations dreamed up by the directors but taken from their own lives. The hog-wrangler, Floyd (Floyd Rich III), truly kept Miss Charlotte in his backyard, and truly campaigned to get her recognized as an NFL mascot.

These young men live in the outskirts of communities built a couple generations back, primarily African American, lacking recent development, not urban nor rural, just paved. The film’s long second scene features two likable young men, both fathers, ragging on their too-few restaurant choices but finding some excitement in the rumor that a pizza joint’s coming to Cheverly.

Sweaty Betty is unrushed, and its directors rarely cut, even when their own shadows edge into the frame. These men, Rico (Rico Mitchell) and Scooby (Seth Dubose), are young, have the day off and know there’s something out there worth doing if only they can think of it. The filmmakers steep you in that feeling, too, enough so that it’s a jolt when the camera, handheld and free, whips around to the road where an SUV has pulled up. The driver hollers something about giving away a dog (“She done messed up my house!”), and just like that Rico and Scooby are in possession of a pit bull terrier.

Like Floyd, Rico and Scooby see in their animal the chance for a score. They could breed this “cocaine-white” pup or maybe sell it for a couple hundred bucks.

The film then follows everyone’s easygoing efforts at pet monetization: The young men buy a leash, get distracted by some young women, show the dog off to some neighbors and then try to figure out where to put the dog while they go to a cookout. Miss Charlotte’s name, we learn, comes from E.B. White’s famous book, a fact that at first seems curious: Charlotte was the spider. But then, heartbreakingly, we learn that Miss Charlotte’s pig pal Lil Wilbur died a while back under mysterious circumstances. Someone suggests that maybe poor Wilbur ate at Checkers, the lowest of the local fast-food places, but that’s as close as Sweaty Betty comes to politics or social problems. This isn’t hard-times reportage or a deep-dive ethnography. It’s a chance to meet and loiter with the people in the places the interstates zip past.

Rico and Scooby may have a day and night wide empty in front of them, but they’re also presented as committed fathers and students, smart young men making some sacrifices and making the most out of whatever this country might give them. Their story is warm, but it’s the story of the filmmakers themselves — local residents who scraped money from their day jobs to put Sweaty Betty together — that is most inspiring here. Their will and ambition are matched only by their eye for character, detail and real-life hilarity.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Alan Scherstuhl is film editor and writer at Voice Media Group. VMG publications include Denver Westword, Miami New Times, Phoenix New Times, Dallas Observer, Houston Press and New Times Broward-Palm Beach.
Contact: Alan Scherstuhl

Latest Stories