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Why Rachel From Sweet Girl Looks So Familiar

Netflix has released the heart-stopping new thriller "Sweet Girl" and it features a rising star at its center that should be familiar to many viewers. Directed by Brian Andrew Mendoza (Netflix's "Frontier") and co-written by Greg Hurwitz ("The Book of Henry") and Philip Eisner ("Event Horizon"), "Sweet Girl" stars Jason Momoa as Ray Cooper, a grieving man left reeling after the death of his wife, Amanda, following an extended cancer battle. In addition to processing this loss in the months following Amanda's passing, Ray and his daughter, Rachel, can't seem to shake their anger at how preventable it might have been. 

You see, just before Amanda's death, the father-and-daughter duo learned that a potentially life-saving drug was taken off the market and, even worse, another low-cost generic option that would have been competition was also made unavailable. With no options left and a burning desire for vengeance against the pharmaceutical company who seemingly took away Amanda's last lifeline, Ray and his daughter are soon drawn into a deadly conspiracy that sees them on the run and hunting for answers about why the drug was never released.

While "Sweet Girl" may grab our attention with its bone-crunching hand-to-hand combat scenes and the occasional explosion, the cast of this Netflix movie is the real draw. "Game of Thrones" alum Momoa is the biggest draw here as he put his brawny, action hero frame to good use in well-crafted action sequences. Additional cast members Adria Arjona, Justin Bartha, Amy Brenneman, and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo have also appeared in popular projects, including "Good Omens," "The Hangover," "The Leftovers," and "Sicario: Day of the Soldado," respectively. However, Isabela Merced, who plays Rachel Cooper in "Sweet Girl," may be newer to audiences. 

Here are Merced's previous — and most recognizable — star-making roles to date.

Merced was a popular Nickelodeon star who appeared in TV shows and original movies, including Legends of the Hidden Temple

Before making her way into big studio movies, Merced was a popular young star in rotation on a variety of Nickelodeon TV shows and original movies. Following a brief supporting stint on the short-lived NBC show "Growing Up Fisher," Merced appeared in the Nickelodeon TV movie "Splitting Adam." The sweet movie follows a young boy named Adam who discovers a machine in his uncle's basement that allows him to make clones of himself, which he uses to fix all of the problems in his life. Merced plays Lori, a love interest. 

Merced then moved on from "Splitting Adam" to the "Legends of the Hidden Temple" TV movie, a live-action adaptation of the popular '90s Nickelodeon game show. The movie followed Sadie (Merced) and her two younger brothers as their vacation to Mexico takes a surprising turn. After breaking away from a "Legends of the Hidden Temple"-themed tour, guided by Kirk Fogg — the actual host of the game show — the siblings find themselves involved in an adventure not unlike the original game show.

While making original movies, Merced also had a starring role on the Nickelodeon TV series "100 Things to Do Before High School." The television series followed best friends CJ (Merced), Fenwick (Jaheem Toombs), and Crispo (Owen Joyner) as they tried to navigate the choppy waters of middle school. The coming-of-age kid's show saw the trio deal with bullies, cliques, mean girls, boring teachers, and tons of homework as they tried to prepare themselves for life after eighth grade.

Merced joined forces with Mark Wahlberg and the Autobots in Transformers: The Last Knight

Merced broke away from the Nickelodeon fold in 2017 when she starred alongside Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, and Josh Duhamel in "Transformers: The Last Knight." This is the fifth and most recent installment in the "Transformers" cinematic franchise (not counting the 2018 spinoff "Bumblebee"), as well as Merced's big break into major studio movies. In "The Last Knight," Merced plays Izabella, a street-hardened teen who was orphaned during the city-destroying battle between the Autobots and Decepticons at the end of 2011's "Transformers: Dark of the Moon." Izabella teams with inventor Cade Yeager (Wahlberg) as they try to help to Autobots search for a necessary artifact that could help defeat the Decepticons once and for all.

Perhaps it was "Transformers" franchise fatigue, which had been going for a decade at that point, or the actual content of "Transformers: The Last Knight" itself, but this fifth film had an abysmal critical reception. According to Rotten Tomatoes, "The Last Knight" has a fatal 15% Tomatometer score and 43% audience score. Among the 254 reviews used to tally up that Tomatometer percentage are some damning reactions. Sight & Sound deemed the movie "an exhausting distillation of everything that can go wrong with a blockbuster," while noted critic Roxana Hadadi branded the entry "the pinnacle of summer blockbuster stupidity" in her review for Chesapeake Family Magazine. To wit, the movie was nominated for nine Razzies that year (via Gold Derby), including a nod for Wahlberg as Worst Actor. Luckily, Merced was spared from the shadow of these critiques and even the Razzies, as the success of her next movies would prove.

She re-teamed with Wahlberg for the heartwarming drama Instant Family

Merced re-teamed with Wahlberg in 2018's "Instant Family," one of two movies Merced appeared in that year in addition to "Sicario: Day of the Soldado." "Instant Family" saw Merced return to her heartwarming family drama roots as she tackled the role of Lizzy, an orphaned teenager who, along with her two younger siblings, is taken out of the foster care system and placed in the home of childless couple Pete (Wahlberg) and Ellie Wagner (Rose Byrne). As the Wagners work through the growing pains of suddenly becoming parents to a teenager and two young kids, Lizzy must learn how to let down her guard and trust that Pete and Ellie are not going to hurt her the way she's been hurt in the past. 

"Instant Family" won over critics and audiences alike, pulling in an 81% Tomatometer score and 82% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. The movie had a fairly warm box office reception, pulling in over $62.4 million at the domestic box office and over $119 million worldwide (via The Numbers). Amongst critics, there was a shared element of surprise over the movie's ability to reel them with its emotional impact. The emotional resonance of the story was something Merced touched on in an interview with We Are Mìtu, telling the outlet that "the story itself is a very delicate thing," and revealed she took time to speak with kids in the foster care system to hear their story in an effort to authentically depict what it's like for a young person in that situation.

Merced brought to life a beloved Nickelodeon character in Dora and the Lost City of Gold

In 2019, Merced returned to the world Nickelodeon to star in the live-action adventure "Dora and the Lost City of Gold." Merced was no stranger to the "Dora the Explorer" franchise, having already voiced a character in the Nickelodeon animated series "Dora and Friends: Into the City!" in 2014. Between that particular credit and her work on "The Last Knight," Merced seemed primed to step into the lead role of the titular character. "Dora and the Lost City of Gold" follows precocious teenager Dora (Merced), who is sent to live with her cousin Diego after her explorer parents decide to search for the titular lost city on their own. Naturally, Dora cannot fight her adventuring impulse and soon ropes in Diego and two other friends to go looking for her parents and to find the lost city.

"Dora and the Lost City of Gold" marked a major turning point in Merced's career. The 2019 feature film was the young star's first time tackling a leading role and getting top billing; previously, she'd appeared in supporting or co-lead roles. In a 2019 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Merced shared that she wanted to subvert the trope of the "angsty teenager" by taking a much sunnier, more comedically self-aware approach to playing the live-action version of a kids character. Per Merced, for "this opportunity as Dora, the script itself already had that wit in place" and, as such, she "just wanted to make her feel like you snatched her out of the animated show and brought her into real life."

That attitude in crafting her character worked like a charm for Merced and the movie overall. Per Rotten Tomatoes, "Dora and the Lost City of Gold" nabbed an 85% critical score and an 88% audience score. The live-action romp had a similar box office performance to Merced's previous pic "Instant Family," picking up over $60 million domestically and $117 million globally (via The Numbers).

Merced played a teen who falls in love with a pop star in Netflix's Let It Snow

"Sweet Girl" is not Merced's first major Netflix original movie. Previous to the action-packed thriller, Merced starred in the ensemble teen drama, "Let It Snow." Based on the novel of the same name co-written by Maureen Johnson, John Green, and Lauren Myracle, "Let It Snow" is rather reminiscent of another popular, Christmas-set ensemble movie, "Love Actually" — albeit for a slightly younger audience.

The Netflix movie brings together a variety of young stars, like "Spider-Man: Far From Home"'s Jacob Batalon and "Chilling Adventures of Sabrina" alum Kiernan Shipka, to tell interwoven stories about teens dealing with problems involving friends, romantic crushes, and rocky relationships during the holidays. In Merced's storyline, she plays Julie, a young woman who bumps into pop star Stuart Bale (Shameik Moore). What begins as an unusual encounter develops into a possible romance as Julie and Stuart spend the day getting to know one another and contemplate if there is something more to their relationship. 

Sweet Girl is a proof of Merced's potential as a lead actor

"Sweet Girl" reaffirms what audiences know to be true after "Dora and the Lost City of Gold": Merced has the ability to step into the spotlight and capably lead a movie. While Momoa is left to do a lot of the heavy-lifting when it comes to action, Merced steps up to serve as the heart of the movie. Her approach to Rachel sees her blending hard and soft, able to embody a young woman wracked by grief over the unjust death of her mother, consumed by fear over the deadly circumstances she finds herself in with her dad, and vulnerable in her efforts to reach out to him to find comfort. Momoa may technically be top-billed in "Sweet Girl," but this Netflix movie is all about Merced's performance as Rachel, a young woman trying to survive circumstances that seem unsurvivable. 

Merced's love of Rachel seems to have sparked an interest in playing darker characters in the future. She shared in a recent interview with Screen Rant that "I think it's great to be able to portray a character that is so psychologically [dark]. It's a challenging role, and I love that. I want to do more of that dark stuff."

We may have to wait a little longer to see Merced step into those darker roles. Next up, we'll see the young actor appear in the "Father of the Bride" reboot starring Andy Garcia and Gloria Estefan (via The Hollywood Reporter), as well as the "Romeo and Juliet"-inspired YA rom-com "Rosaline."