F.I.L.M. of the Week (December 18, 2009)

18 12 2009

This week’s “F.I.L.M.” is “Sherrybaby,” a gritty tale of a former drug addict trying to turn her life around after her release from jail.  The titular character is played with great emotional intensity (hence a disclaimer is necessary) by Maggie Gyllenhaal, and her performance earned a much-deserved Golden Globe nomination.  Unfortunately, she could not propel the movie to financial success, as shown by its $200,000 gross and widest release of 13 theaters.  But nevertheless, “Sherrybaby” is still worth the 90 minutes of your time because of its unsparingly bleak portrayal of a flawed woman forced to confront the consequences of her actions in a decidedly unforgiving world.

After being sprung from the slammer, Sherry has many issues to deal with, but first and foremost to her is to be a good mother to her daughter, who has been living with her brother and his wife.  However, a rift develops over where the true parenting duties lie between the two parties, and Sherry’s distress distracts from the other improvements she has to make in her life.  You know, like steering clear of drugs, getting a job, and staying within the confines of her parole.  As the struggle continues, stability becomes harder to maintain, and Sherry begins to crave what she has forsaken.

In 2006, the year “Sherrybaby” was released, Helen Mirren won Best Actress for her role in “The Queen” that I felt was played completely in cruise control.  Gyllenhaal, on the contrary, is at full-throttle intensity from start to finish.  Her performance is devastatingly raw and wholeheartedly convincing.  She goes all out to make this character real, willing to bear it all (meant quite literally…multiple times) and risk it all.  Her mettle pays its dividends, and Sherry is a remarkable achievement of acting.  The character is somewhat erratic and out of control, but we never doubt that Gyllenhaal is in full control.  As her star shines brighter among mainstream actresses, perhaps she will return to independent film and infuse another role with the same potency she displayed here.



One response

22 12 2009

I am still so very bitter that Gyllenhaal did not walk away with an Oscar for her performance in “Sherrybaby,” but in a way I can see why: This is very subtle, unshowy acting, and save for the rare Don Cheadle/”Hotel Rwanda” that kind of acting does not merit scads of award nominations. But this was a plum role, and I can’t imagine anyone but Gyllenhaal playing it. She finds the right notes in the quiet scenes, like the one where she uses her hand as an ashtray instead of asking her sister-in-law for one, or the dinner table scene where she makes it clear Sherry is nearly as immature and attention-hungry as a child. Sherry is stuck halfway between woman and child, and Gyllenhaal communicates this with amazing nuance.

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