Wednesday, March 14, 2007

SHERRYBABY - brilliantly crafted portrait of a lady

SHERRYBABY could adopt the same tagline as INLAND EMPIRE: a woman in trouble. It's a breathtakingly well-made and well-acted drama following a young ex-jailbird, junkie and mother as she leaves prison and tries to regain her daughter. The movie features a central performance by Maggie Gyllenhaal that is powerful, moving and certainly the most breath-taking portrayal I have seen in the past twelve months. Indeed, it makes Dame Helen Mirren's multiple award-winning role in The Queen look like dress-up. Gyllenhaal has to portray a woman who is simulataneously angry, strong, determined but also damaged, desperate for attention and self-destructive. We have to believe that Sherry loves her daughter and wants to make good, but also the serious danger of spontaneous self-harm. The complexity of both the written part (writer-director Laurie Collyer) and Gyllenhaal's performance combine to take this film beyond a typical tart-with-a-heart story and into something more impressive and authentic. Not to be missed.

Further to my cursory but glowing review, I bring you in on the thoughts of Movie Matt - probably the nicest person you'll ever not meet and definitely the guy who's seen the most movies. Note that his review contains spoilers and, more to the point, the issues Matt talks about will be more interesting if you've actually seen the film already:

"I'm glad to hear you liked Sherrybaby, because I LOVED it. Maggie Gyllenhaal's central performance was truly captivating, and I found myself thinking about it for days. The story of the film is, of course, remarkably simple and could be summed up in a single sentence. This could be construed as a flaw, because in all probability upon hearing this summation before the movie you would predict a clich├ęd ending of her making the choice to do what is right by her daughter etc. Indeed this is actually what happens, however in all likelihood you wouldn’t guess the outcome when you see the movie because of how believable Sherry is as a person. I thought the troubled aspects of her character were well explored during the course of the story. I really believed how frustrated Sherry was over her own shortcomings as a mother, and as a person, that I just wanted to see the character develop as much as she did. The subtle ending was well executed, leaving you with just enough hope for her future as a mother, but not so that you’ll unrealistically think it’ll all now be happy times ahead.

The tense, and yet often quiet scenes really emphasised her feelings of isolation and loneliness, which in turn added to the realism of the movie. I enjoyed the simple reflections of the atmosphere to her own feelings, from the (often) intense sunshine when she is the most hopeful about her future (i.e. when she meets her daughter again for the first time since her release) to the dingy, heavy florescent lighting of the motel rooms when despair gets the better of her. This effectively echoed not only her own mental state but also the tone of the film as a whole. Indeed the ending of film takes place at night when you see her driving away into the distance after dropping off her daughter at her brother’s house. While the darkness is still all around her and it has certainly tainted her, she’s still moving forward. Simple, yet powerful.

I was also quite impressed with the solid supporting cast, including Giancarlo Esposito as her parole officer and (quite surprisingly) Danny Trejo who really shows that he has talent as an actor. The bath scene where he cleans Sherry delicately with a sponge was particularly poignant, as the total absence of any sexual intention really gave you the impression that he was taking care of her the way a father would take care of his child.

However, by far my favourite scene in the film was where Sherry meets her father again for the first time since her release from prison, because of how much was revealed about her past and her family’s attitude towards her. Watching her standing on the couch with her arms touching the ceiling like a little girl, and actually competing with her own daughter for her father’s attention was utterly compelling. There were also such strong impressions of Sherry being emotionally disconnected from her family, which was demonstrated beautifully when ten seconds after her father sees her for first time in three years, he immediately moves away from her to talk to his son about getting the gutters cleared.

I was also impressed how the story only gave a hint of the underlying abuse Sherry grew up with when you see her father touch her just for a couple of seconds. The film wasn’t trying to shock you with the notion of abuse, and because of this subtlety it was all the more disturbing. Indeed her own reaction to her father touching her was to run away and this told us a lot about her own character i.e. she wasn’t disgusted with her father for what he just done (when of course she clearly should be) she was disgusted with herself because it happened. Then we wonderfully see her run through the neighbourhood, a great analogy to the escapism that drugs provide.

Brad William Henke also gave a good performance as Sherry’s brother. He was a very conflicted character as on one hand he’s a strong enough person to undertake raising Sherry’s daughter in her absence, but on the other he’s aware of his father’s actions and does nothing. Their relationship is summed up very well in the way they greet each other at the start of the film. They hug very awkwardly and slowly from a distance. Yes they love each other, but they don’t feel close.

All in all I walked away overwhelmingly impressed with the movie and further convinced of the depth of talent Maggie Gyllenhaal has as an actress."


SHERRYBABY played Sundance 2006 and closed the BirdsEye View Festival in London in 2007. It opened in Sweden in 2007 and is available on Region 1 DVD.

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