Starring: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Brad William Henke, Sam Bottoms, Kate Burton, Ryan Simpkins, Giancarlo Esposito, Danny Trejo, Bridget Barkan
Directed by: Laurie Collyer
It's tough to decide what to do about small, quiet indies like SherryBaby. They're unlike what is usually shown at the multiplex, promising greater character development, stronger performances, and less sensationalism. The promise of intelligent film making and personal performances is quite tempting for me, as studio pictures become safer and safer, running to the middle of the road in an attempt to justify their big budgets.
Unfortunately, some of these small, quiet indies like SherryBaby don't boast stories that are particularly interesting to me, so I'm not sure why I keep making the effort to see them. In this case, it was probably the involvement of Maggie Gyllenhaal, an actress whose performances I've enjoyed even when I didn't quite care for the movie she was in. This movie falls into that category.
True, I wasn't that interested in the subject matter in the first place, but had it been done right, I shouldn't have had an issue getting drawn in. SherryBaby tells the story of Sherry Swanson (Gyllenhaal), a recovering drug addict recently released from jail, struggling to adjust to life on the outside and re-establish her life with her young daughter Alexis (Ryan Simpkins). She runs into difficulties in the form of her parole officer (Giancarlo Esposito), her disapproving brother Bobby (Brad William Henke) and sister-in-law (Bridget Barkan) who have raised Alexis and encourage her not to call Sherry "mom", and her ongoing addiction to heroin.
The problem is that it tells the story in the most obvious way possible, while being almost completely devoid of sympathetic characters (including Sherry, who is an attention-seeking narcissist who puts herself over her daughter and family at every turn). Gyllenhaal does a great job creating her character, but the movie doesn't give her much more than a standard addict story arc to work with, leaving little surprises or revelations along the way. After Gyllenhaal, the next best performance comes from Danny Trejo who gets to step away from his usual Mexican Thug character to portray a character with real heart and empathy, a fellow addict with whom Sherry starts a relationship and the only adult character to truly connect with the audience (with Alexis being naturally sympathetic, as it would be difficult to not sympathise with a child in this situation).
Performances aside, there's not much more to recommend about SherryBaby. It hits familiar notes throughout, doing little to draw in the audience along the way. True, it might not be the same mindless entertainment crafted by studio bean counters that too often proliferate the multiplexes, but that doesn't mean it can't be just as inadequate.
Half Nelson (2006)