Thursday, December 11, 2008


Another of those lovely little red envelopes arrived in the mail a couple of days ago, and this afternoon I got around to watching Sherrybaby, with Maggie Gyllenhaal, who was awfully good in Stranger Than Fiction, though I have not yet seen any of her edgier work (Secretary, Happy Endings). I happened upon Sherrybaby while browsing DVDs on Netflix and building up the ol’ queue (and yes, I’m enough of a dork that I have to stop myself from making any goofy Star Trek references here, unless this parenthetical counts).

With the benefit of hindsight, however, I realize that I perhaps should have read more about the film, or possibly a review or two, before putting it so high in the queue. See...this is another of those films concerning Desperate Women Who Do Desperate Things To Fix Their Families - and I’ve recently seen two other films that go in this category (Frozen River and Turn The River) and a third film that concerns a protagonist struggling to get off of drugs and back to her real life (Rachel Getting Married).

The first two acts just sort of ramble along, as Sherry gets paroled and eases back into life with an asshole parole officer, an awkward living arrangement at a halfway house, a daughter who barely remembers her, and a brother who has been taking care of the daughter with his wife since Sherry went to prison. Gyllenhaal does an adequate job with the role, but the feeling she evokes is not that of a woman who wants to start a new and better life; rather, she comes off almost as someone who thinks herself blameless and is pissed off at the world for not seeing her life the way she sees it. She has a clear, legal - though not necessarily easy - path back to being a mother who can take care of her daughter. Instead of grabbing that chance and running with it, though, she seems put out that she has to go through these motions.

After a disastrous birthday party for her daughter, at which she arrives late, Sherry takes off running and winds up getting high again. Oddly, this is where the film finally starts to work. After a scene with her parole officer - he’s still an asshole - Sherry is faced with what is, to her, the impossible choice of an in-patient drug treatment program or going back to prison. She then spends a day with her daughter, and the film ends with a heartfelt scene between Sherry and her brother, and you get the sense that there is some hope for Sherry in the end.

The problem is that I just didn’t find myself feeling sympathetic for Sherry during those first two acts. It was almost as if she was a spoiled little rich girl who thought she deserved better than what she had to endure - and the nudity and sex were gratuitous to the point of being vulgar. None of the other characters were remotely interesting, nor developed in any real way - so all of the focus was on Sherry, and it turns out that she’s not really all that interesting.

Next in the queue is Little Children, which I didn’t like the first time I saw it. I just finished reading the novel for the second time, and I wanted to give the film a second chance because the novel is just so good. If you haven’t wrapped your head around a Tom Perrotta novel, you’re missing out. His most recent novel, The Abstinence Teacher (which is a little bit derivative of Little Children, but still a good read) is, according to IMDb, in development for a 2010 release.

No comments: