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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Finally a film that you feel does not purposely play at the collective
heartstrings of humanity or jerk you for tears every chance it gets. In
spite of its tragic and heartfelt content of a mother reconnecting with
her 6-year-old daughter after she has been released from prison,
Sherrybaby moves back into realistic mode, and feels truly engaging
because of it.
Undoubtedly, Maggie Gyllenhaal's performance in the film reeks of Oscar-bait for it is simply an excellent performance. Sadly I think the academy will overlook 'Sherrybaby' because the film is simply not good enough on its own and the sum of its individual components rarely, if ever, do justice to its titular actress. However, awards are not everything and rest assured that the film still has plenty to offer. In the front row for this is its realistic and unshowy core, sewn together by Maggie Gyllenhaal as ex-con and former teenage-mom-and-drug-addict Sherry. Upon returning to her old life, she finds that it is nothing like she left it. Her daughter Alexis now lives with her brother and his wife Lynette, both of whom have become strong parental figures for the young girl, much to the dismay and frustration of Sherry who wants nothing more than to re-build a bond of trust and love with her daughter, but who now finds Lynette a barrier.
This frustration makes and propels 'Sherrybaby'. It stems from a variety of things that the film touches upon at several points: the seedy halfway home Sherry is sent to live at upon her release, the trouble she has readjusting herself to society and to work ("I'll suck your dick if you give me the job I want."), her abusive relationship with her father, her coping drug addiction and the fact that Lynette is discouraging Alexis from calling Sherry 'mommy'. The film is evenly peppered with these problems but luckily it never tips over into gloominess. What it does most, however, it plunge bravely into the white trash culture of America: junk-food, fat people, seedy jobs and apartments, pinning its scantily-clad centre Sherry somewhere in between.
I think Gyllenhaal captures her character with effortless conviction. From the mood swings, frustration, confused maternal love to the ultimate frailty, she translates every component of her wreck of a character with perfect emotional transparency. It all translates into a very real and heartrending performance. Best of all, she never falls prey to showiness or exaggerated melodrama; she keeps it down-to-earth. Soon Sherry turns into a manifestation of the title 'Sherrybaby' as she finds herself sucked back into her teenage life of sorts: she craves attention, she is helpless, she wants to do drugs, she sleeps around. All the while she remains on the outside of things looking in because she has been absent for so many years.
Certainly all performances in the film hold up pretty well. It is especially interesting to see Danny Trejo in a role in which he is actually nice for a change a bit of a sleaze, true but still on the side of good (as opposed to rentable bad-guy/thug). All the interactions between the characters follow the theme of the film; it is realistic. But 'Sherrybaby' is not devoid of faults. At all. One of its key shortcomings is its lack of any clear point. You get the feeling most scenes do not serve any purpose other than to give us a feel for the way things are run (wow, I feel like I'm writing about Scorsese) in the white trash culture. There is in this way no clear narrative structure. What is worse is that there is little or no humour to ease the mood, and nearly NO music score throughout the film.
In fact, dissecting the film would probably reveal individual components that could not even pretend to equal the sum of it all. Thankfully, Maggie Gyllenhaal elicits so much sympathy as Sherry that it does not really matter.
7 out of 10
The rehabilitation of an ex-convict can provide juicy stories so this
should be no exception, as glamorous, short-skirted jailbird Sherry
Swanson (Maggie Gyllenhaal from 'The Secretary') leaves prison yearning
desperately to be re-united with her young and very lovable child
Alexis. The telling of the story tries hard not to follow conventions
and seems to have considerable integrity, yet by building high
expectations it can almost not fail to charm and disappoint in equal
With a beautiful background song, 'Some Kind of Heaven', we join Sherry as she starts parole and arrives at a half-way house, bible in hand, full of excitement and hope. Her character, skilfully conveyed by Gyllenhaal, alternates between that of a warm, charismatic individual and the more archetypical ex-prisoner. She has worked hard to reform herself during her incarceration, kicking drugs, studying parenting courses, developing her faith, and now has a beautiful warm smile that melts cold hearts; but just when you might worry about being subjected to an hour and a half of saccharin, she snaps when pushed, swears copiously, threatens a fellow ex-con that pushes her around and, when the employment manager looks set to consign her to waiting tables in a restaurant, tells him frankly, "I'll suck your dick if you give me the job I want." Starting a new life and getting back with her daughter proves hard as events conspire around her. Someone from Sherry's rehab programme recognises her from a strip club where she worked at age 16; her parole officer is hard on her just at the time when she her new dream job starts taking off; Alexis' foster parents are rightly cautious about having her around, and her father is a pervert. At first she uses sex as a release for her jealousies and frustrations with life, but soon progresses to alcohol and worse. Her self-confidence worn down, she realises she is only angry at herself and her inability to cope as well as she would like. Ironically, and perhaps with more humour than intended, she admits, "I'm just mad cos I suck." At one point she rejects a down to earth life-changing programme in favour of her Good Book, and sceptics might feel that leaning on religion in this way hardly does her any favours. Sherry's problem is maybe that she wants to 'reform' only to the extent she deems necessary to raise her child, but her comprehension of the task facing is like someone looking through a keyhole.
Realistic fly-on-the-wall performances prevent Sherrybaby from descending into a sentimental hard luck story. Society feels sympathy for someone in her predicament, but society - and also the law - feels even more concern when a defenceless child is caught up in the midst. The task of reintegrating with the outside world may be an almost impossible one, and Sherry fights bravely (even if we disapprove of some of her methods) but the increasing worry - and one that the movie, to its credit, doesn't dodge - is for the well-being of Alexis. Even left to her own devices (which she isn't), Alexis, unable to comprehend the complexity of what's happening around her, would probably gravitate to those adults radiating the emotional stability of her foster parents rather than the gushing love coupled with violent verbal or physical outbursts of her real mother. In one scene, Sherry violently rebukes a parent who is shaking and berating her son. Whatever the moral justification, Alexis is frightened and backs away.
Sherrybaby's weakness is that meanders on too long for the amount of underlying plot. Repeated family reunions add little to the story and begin to look like a TV documentary that goes on just slightly past its sell-by date. But to its credit it tackles a difficult subject with honesty, includes some gutsy performances, doesn't flinch from including very believable adult subject matter, and is quite enjoyable as long as you don't expect too much.
I saw this movie at Sundance and thought Maggies' performance was WOW. There is so much junk that makes it to the big screen, I am surprised this movie did not get widescreen release. Obviously the "suits" think movies that make you think won't appeal to mainstream audiences. While at Sundance watching this film, I was sitting near two woman that were adult probation officers and they stated that the movie was very realistic and thought the Director did a great job of capturing what woman go thru after they are released from prison. They also said that most woman in jail have been sexually or physically abused at sometime in their life. Great job and kudos to all those that worked on this movie!
Maggie Gyllenhaal is one of America's finest actors and in SHERRY BABY
she pulls out a performance that is gut wrenching, painful to watch,
but is a character we are rooting for throughout the film. In the last
frame you feel her heartache and the compelling need to want her to
have a life that is better than the one she has led.
SHERRY BABY reminds me of Ryan Gosling's HALF NELSON in the struggle to overcome drugs and make something out of your life. Too bad that Sherry has to follow such a dark, long road before she can come into her own and move beyond her painful past. The one scene in the film with the father at the birthday party will stay with me forever, as now you can fully understand her anguish and pain.
Maggie Gyllenhaal should be remembered at Award Season as her Sherry is a character that stays with you for a long time, and is someone that makes you want to like, respect and help her secure a new life. Bravo, Sherry, for your bravery, and for having such a skilled actress as Maggie Gyllenhaal portray your life.
I thought the movie featured a great screen play and was a strong
vehicle for each of actors to develop their characters. The story may
not be entirely original but I think that's a strength because it's the
telling of the story through each of the characters that makes it an
achievement. Seldom does a film have such strong protagonists and
antagonists and allow viewers to really empathize with each.
I enjoyed seeing the raw tension between the characters who could relate to personally, as my family participated in the Foster Care system for many years growing up. I think some may want to see more of a definitive ending but for me, it's more about the journey and the struggles therein.
I would recommend this movie for those who want to see a seemingly familiar story told in a unique way.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This was the best narrative film I saw at Sundance. It was a truthful
movie about flawed people trying to live and love each other the best
that they could. Maggie G. was amazing as always from the opening shot
on the bus, to her final realization at the end of the film. She is
easily the best young actress working today.
When it started and the premise of an addict getting out of jail unraveled I had a sinking feeling in my stomach - like, oh, one of those movies - yipes! But in every place where it could have been cliché and have the wince factor - it didn't. Again and again the script took the subtle approach and it pays off huge in the end. The directing was right on, particularly in scenes with minor characters where we just got enough with a quick short set up.
Additionally, the little girl playing the lead's daughter nearly stole the film in parts. She was something special. This film has the stuff, I hope it gets recognized for what it achieved.
She is what she is. She is not able to restrain herself. She needs
gratification. She can't postpone it. She succumbs to whatever it is,
sex, heroin, alcohol, nicotine...love. She is impulsive and she flies
off the handle easily. She doesn't know that she behaves badly. She
doesn't know that is not the way to dress. Or perhaps she does. She
needs to be gratified, and so probably that is why she dresses that
She was sexually abused by her father who loved her. But who does she love? She desperately wants her daughter to love her. Do you love me? she asks. Say, "I love you, Mommie." The child does, but suddenly--and this is the denouement of the movie--Sherry realizes that there is some question about whether the child should love her. Yes, she has the stretch marks, but really does she deserve the title of "mother"? And does she love herself? Probably not, and maybe that is her biggest problem. It is said that women who are always seeking sex are really seeking a love that they cannot find. One always feels that if only they would pick the right man. But this is an illusion. There is no right man until she is the right woman.
Maggie Gyllenhaal does an outstanding job of becoming this woman who is lost in this world without a compass as to how she should behave and why, who is lost to everything but her immediate feelings. She is a child emotionally and she cannot understand why it is that life is so hard for her and why the world is so cruel.
This is a masterful portrait of a kind of person that is part of humanity. A good person at heart, not someone who would do others deliberate harm, but a person who is blind to who she is and to how others see her. Into what world does belong? is a question I kept asking myself. I don't know the answer.
Laurie Collyer's direction is exquisite. The players and especially the little girl are wonderfully directed. Everything is like the people next door without a hint of anything phony. The contemporary Garden State setting is real and the details and the atmosphere are as genuine as the New Jersey Turnpike. And the ending surprises. It is perfect but in a way that I suspect most viewers will not be able to predict. I know it surprised me.
My hat is off to Laurie Collyer and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Thank you for this modest little masterpiece and for not compromising reality or putting in any unnecessary fig leaves or giving in to any notions of political correctness. This is just a pure slice of life movie with a beginning, a middle and an end, beautifully realized. And yes it is rated R.
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
Maggie Gyllenhaal plays recently-paroled addict Sherry Swanson, an East Coast single mom struggling to stay clean and get to know her estranged pre-teen daughter whose been living with Sherry's brother. Gyllenhaal runs the risk of being completely unlikable playing this hard-shelled woman, one with a short fuse and no concept of how to live a straight life (to get her way, she uses her body); however, the role is a dream for a dramatic actress, and Gyllenhaal goes way out on a limb with her characterization. It is a brave, blistering acting turn, with nary a false note, and while the plot elements don't quite bloom and some sequences feel disappointingly aimless, Maggie Gyllenhaal is remarkably consistent, scary, ridiculously tough and straightforward, and so honest that her thoughts come out unedited--she's a human cliffhanger. The movie is really about dealing with your anger and your shame, and it's directed toward a very satisfying finish, but that doesn't make many painful scenes any easier to watch. When some people screw up, they tend to do it in full view of the world; this is Sherry Swanson--and while she's angry and hurt and frustrated, writer-director Laurie Collyer is careful not to alienate us from Sherry's feelings. We share in them--without sentimentality--and the returns are worthy but tough to shake off. **1/2 from ****
I saw the film back in September 2006, and I can still remember what a
strong, dauntless performance Maggie Gyllenhaal delivered in w-d Laurie
Collyer's debut film "SherryBaby". Yes, I believe the young child actor
(Ryan Simpkins) portraying her daughter Alexis is remarkable, but Ms.
Gyllenhaal's Sherry Swanson character inhabited stays. She was in d-
Marc Foster's "Stranger Than Fiction" playing opposite Will Ferrell,
it's another dependable delivery as expected. To truly appreciate Ms.
Gyllenhaal beyond her famed role opposite James Spader in d- Steven
Shainberg's "Secretary" 2002 (screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson), one
really should watch her in "SherryBaby."
The film appears to be so simply delivered that it's more than meets the eye. Probably, not until you discovered/realized the possible reason(s) behind her drug habit and what drove Sherry to her irregular/irresponsible behaviors displayed, it could be difficult to watch the 'destructive' almost hopelessly helpless scenes in the film. W-d Collyer took the risk of not trying to provide palatable or toned-down storyline, but gave it to us tough as it should be, but thoughtful. It's hard medicine at best with no apology. And hope, in spite of it all, is what Collyer wants to generate. Hang in there, the ending is worth waiting for and I love the ending credit roll song (which, most of the time I noticed, provides the central theme of what the film we just watched): "When I Find My Life" - a song by Marianne Faithful, sung by Dana Fuchs . The lyrics were spot-on describing the sentiments we experienced with Sherry and her family. She is so lucky to have such a caring, observant brother, Bobby Swanson - a sensitive, low-key performance by Brad William Henke which I appreciate. There are also steady supporting cast from Danny Trejo as 12-step veteran/eventual friend Dean, Giancarlo Esposito as the firm (though not without heart) Parole Officer Hernandez, Bridget Barkan as Bobby's wife Lynette (whom Alexis gotten used to and grew to love), Samuel Bottoms as Dad Swanson (not an easy distinction of the father-daughter relationship at first glance). Together, filmmaker Laurie Collyer and actor Maggie Gyllenhaal gave us a worthwhile "SherryBaby" - it may not be pleasant for everyone (NFE) but it dares - not reticent in telling like it is.
This film does remind me of w-d Olivier Assayas' "Clean" 2004, the French production with Maggie Cheung and Nick Nolte, also about a (drug/prison) rehabilitated mother trying to redeem herself and gain back her son's faith. (Available on DVD). Also, reminds me of w-d Cristina Comencini's "Don't Tell" 2005, an Italian film aka 'The Beast in the Heart', involves a sister-brother supportive relationship of similar topic. "SherryBaby" is by far grittier in its depiction and the tumultuous emotional journey complete.
 The lyrics of the song "When I Find My Life" is available online. Such poignant words: 'Oh, i will free the bird in me, Oh, when i find my life. What i always knew could be, Oh, when i find my life.' 'I will see the truth in me' 'I will let go the pain' 'I will reach beyond the strain' 'Fear of lost and fear of pain'. Enter for search: lyrics, "when I find my life" -- and you should get results to Marianne Faithful lyrics.
Maggie Gyllenhaal emerges as an undeniably powerful actress in the
title role of this low-budget 2006 indie. Rather than providing her
usual scene-stealing turn, she gets to convey the nuances of a
full-blown character by delivering an astonishing range of emotion as a
struggling ex-convict. The film reminds me quite a bit of Ulu
Grosbard's overlooked 1978 "Straight Time" in which Dustin Hoffman
plays a paroled ex-burglar who cannot shake his former life. Both
provide incisive looks into the hardscrabble existence of people trying
desperately to reform, but in doing so, the stories become so desultory
and the situations start to have a by-the-numbers feeling that the
dramatic momentum dissipates toward their inevitable conclusions.
Directed and written by Laurie Collyer, the film takes an unflinching look at Sherry Swanson, a former heroin addict just released on parole after three years in prison for robbery. Returning home to New Jersey, she is desperate to stay clean and sober in order to reclaim her young daughter Alexis from her sympathetic brother Bobby and his conflicted wife Lynette. Without drugs, Sherry's addictive behavior manifests itself in cigarettes, alcohol and emboldened sexual acts to get what she needs. Yet, her biggest addiction is her relentless pursuit of an idealized image of herself as a mother, and it is her disconnect with reality that produces the film's most poignant moments. Otherwise, the movie gets increasingly frustrating to watch because Collyer provides only hints of what Sherry brought her to her dilemma. What we see mainly are flashes of short-tempered narcissism when we see people understandably looking to emotionally disengage from her, including her indiscriminate father.
There are some surprisingly graphic scenes that show how Sherry uses her shopworn beauty as emotional armor when Collyer could have better used them to underline her melancholy mental state. In the face of these script shortcomings, Gyllenhaal displays enough dexterity to fill in a lot of the blanks, especially when she shows how Sherry starts realizing the depth of her accountability for her problems. Brad William Henke provides solid support as Bobby, as does Bridget Barkan as Lynette, Danny Trejo as a supportive fellow addict, Giancarlo Esposito as Sherry's hardened parole officer, and ebullient little Ryan Simpkins as Alexis. I have to admit I could not wait for the 96-minute movie to be over, but it is worthwhile for Gyllenhaal's courageous work as it is she who holds the film together. Sadly, the 2007 DVD does not contains any significant extras (a commentary from Gyllenhaal and Collyer would have been most welcome) other than the trailer.
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