Sherrybaby (2006)

66.

★★★

Directed by: Laurie Collyer
Written by: Laurie Collyer
Starring: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ryan Simpkins and Sam Bottoms

Trying to pick up the pieces

Sherry Swanson (Gyllenhaal) – a recovering heroin addict and young mother – returns home after serving three years in prison. Having left her daughter, Alexis (Simpkins), with her brother and his wife, Sherry tries to re-enter society by finding a job and sticking to a rehabilitation program that will determine whether she can stay out of prison or go back to her old habits. The hope and optimism that Sherry projects, however, is thrown into question as her history, and the difficulty of starting anew spark her desire to use again.

The premise ofSherrybaby is not an entirely original one. Addiction, and one’s desire to find redemption and recovery in a world of judgement have been portrayed in far more compelling and creative ways than Sherry’s story. While the film’s scenes are strung together with Sherry’s driving motivation to win Alexis back, the progression of events lack focus and structure as they give more weight to painting a character portrait rather than letting events build on themselves. Put it this way: you get the feeling nothing is really happening.

On the flip side,A LOT is going on in Sherry’s head and heart. And what ultimately saves the film is attaching Maggie Gyllenhaal to the role of a flawed character that embodies child-like innocence, ignorance, passion and love. With so many dimensions and qualities to Sherry’s personality and history, the depth with which Collyer has created her central character not only keeps us engaged throughout the film, but also overshadows its other narrative qualities – making it both an asset and disservice to the film.

This is not to say that character-driven films always betray more structured and plot-driven stories. Instead, the balance needs to be found by allowing events and action to comment on both the external and internal experiences of a character, whilst also taking the time to flesh out characters as something more than flat, two dimensional beings we don’t care about. Sherrybaby leans too heavily on revolving the entire story around a character. And rather than using well-constructed events to concisely and effectively show us her flaws and vulnerabilities, the film uses its entire screentime to do what it could have done in just a few strong scenes.

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