Written & Directed By: Laurie Collyer
Starring: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Brad William Henke, Sam Bottoms
My rating: 4/5
Despite the vast array of substance addiction films available, few have managed to tap into the humanity of it all as Sherrybaby. It is an intense experience focussing squarely on its central character throughout. Sherry has just been released from prison, an addict and an overall broken woman. After her release she returns to the daughter she left behind. Complications arise when her brother and his wife, who have raised her daughter from birth are unsure of Sherry’s ability to care for a child. Don’t be put off if it sounds like your average daytime TV3 movie, it is far more conflicted, thoughtful and layered than that.
The film never strays from Sherry’s point of view but as the audience sees her engaging in questionable behaviour on several occasions, it creates an awkward feeling that her brother and sister-in-law may be right to oppose her taking back her daughter. Sherry is a complex woman, who we only get to know properly very slowly over the course of the movie. She is sweet and kind, but addicted, not only to drugs, but to the seedy side of life in general.
Director Laurie Collyer reigns supreme here by foregoing any fancy cinematography or the popular “shaky-cam” documentary style and just shooting the film as simply as possible. She remembers at all times to keep Sherry at the centre of every scene and forces the audience to identify with her and question her in equal measures.
The performances are fantastic from a largely unknown cast. Especially heart-wrenching is Brad William Henke who plays Sherry’s brother, caught between his love and pity for his sister, and his doubt in her ability to be a mother. Similarly to this year’s other indie addict flick Half Nelson, Sherrybaby has at its heart a truly beautiful performance from its titular character. Unfortunately the Academy felt Half Nelson’s Ryan Gosling more deserving of an Oscar nomination than Maggie Gyllenhaal. This is a powerful performance from a woman who is clearly not afraid of anything. She gives herself over to being a complete train-wreck of a human being, but always playing it likeably. She ensures she has enough innocence and sweetness to never allow herself to become a villain.
Overall, this is an intensely personal film, in which the audience can’t help but connect with due to its profound closeness to its protagonist. Not your average date movie, but despite a slightly frustrating ending, definitely recommended from this reviewer.-Charlene Lydon 30/7/07