How weird is your family?

For some people, the name Jane Campion (The Piano) suggests humorless, arty pretension. But those people probably haven’t seen (or have forgotten) her wonderful, oddball 1989 debut feature, Sweetie, newly out on DVD (10/24).

The story of a lower-middle-class Australian family — parents Gordon and Flo and daughters Dawn (aka Sweetie) and Kay — the film does have a certain art house quirkiness, thanks in particular to Campion’s eye for telling suburban environmental details (an uprooted sapling, a casually foreboding crack in the kitchen ceiling). But it’s entirely free of the sort of overreaching would-be profundity that weighs down some of Campion’s later works.

What’s particularly remarkable about Sweetie is that it’s a comedic take on the undercurrents of suburban life that actually likes its characters. Especially the maddening, mentally unbalanced Sweetie (Geneviève Lemon), who essentially holds her resentful sis, fed-up mom, and overindulgent dad hostage with her constant, theatrically petulant breakdowns.

This is a family whose members are just trying to get through each day without killing one another — to alternately hilarious and heartbreaking effect.

BUY Sweetie (a new Criterion Collection high-def digital transfer; 1989, 99 minutes)

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