Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Sherrybaby (2006)

Film: Sherrybaby (2006)
Stars: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Brad William Henke, Sam Bottoms, Kate Burton, Giancarlo Esposito, Danny Trejo
Director: Laurie Collyer
Oscar History: No nominations, though Gyllenhaal received a Globe nod for Drama, so you know it was close.
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

Every awards year, there are nominations, frequently in the female acting races but occasionally in writing or music, where you don't know whether or not you are sitting down for quality filmmaking or your cinematic vegetables.  In 2006, the Best Actress race was brimming with five of the best contenders you ever did see for the trophy (it's worth noting that all of that year's nominated quintet either had, or would go on to have, an Oscar, making it a true rarity in terms of AMPAS).  That left a cold shoulder for Maggie Gyllenhaal, who probably would have been nominated in a less spirited contest after working for a number of years and being, at that point, an actor who probably "needed" to have Oscar-nominated in front of her name (she would gain that title for her less inspired work in CrazyHeart three years later).  Gyllenhaal's Sherrybaby is the sort of character study that the acting branch loves, but that rarely makes for particularly arresting cinema.  It's all fine acting, but usually that's just a crutch for a movie that's not very good.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film follows Sherry (Gyllenhaal), a woman recently out of prison and on parole who frequently trades her body for a good time, advantage in a situation, or just out of sheer boredom, and is a drug addict who is trying not so desperately to stay clean (she's an all talk, no work sort of rehab entrant).  The film follows her as she tries to understand why her young daughter Alexis doesn't want anything to do with her, and blames her brother Bobby (Henke) and his wife for turning the daughter, whom they have raised for two years, against her.

The film follows pretty much every formula you could imagine, and we frequently have to see Sherry go through what is clearly poor decision-making (she has sex with a man to get a job, she chooses to answer even the slightest of turns in the road with a bump or a bender).  Usually when a film is going through the motions of drugs and alcohol, we get a redemptive moment, but here Laurie Collyer breaks that cycle-we don't end with any sort of redemption for Sherry except that she decides it would be a bad idea not to break her parole and kidnap her child, instead bringing her daughter back to her brother, and then likely heading off to rehab once more.

This break might, if the film was better, actually be a cool way to throw off viewers of such a film.  After all, the lack of a cheesy redemption certainly helps the central performance in terms of realism, but unfortunately Collyer has already sacrificed realism much earlier in the picture.  Sherry gets lucky break after lucky break, frequently ending up getting out of scrapes that should have almost certainly sent her back to prison.  We also, without any redemption, don't end up liking Sherry even when the script clearly wants us to in the end.  After all, she's a terrible mother; someone haunted by unfortunate demons and to be pitied, but the woman we see onscreen has no business taking care of the daughter she treats more like something to play with than something to nurture and care for.  That's probably the goal, but Collyer's script (she wrote and directed), meanders too often and doesn't really seem to have a point-the film jaunts toward sympathy or realism, but it can't have both and it tries desperately to accomplish this feat.

The film isn't totally wasted, though, as this is easily the best work I've seen from Gyllenhaal.  Her Sherry is intoxicating, but never overtly so so that we are clearly seeing the highs and lows of her decisions (she's not Sandra Bullock in 28 Days, for example, a rom-com queen pretending to be an addict).  Her performance feels deeply natural, and she sells the script as believably as it's possible to push something that somehow was based on a true story (it had to be a loose true story).  Her performance is raw and Gyllenhaal isn't at all encumbered by the vanity of wanting to appear likable.  In a year like 2006 she didn't deserve an Oscar nomination, but it's a pity she scored it three years later for something so much lesser than what she was doing here, even if the film was kind of dreck.

Those are my thoughts on this largely forgotten movie (being an Oscar also-ran doesn't help your longevity-just ask Cake).  What are yours?  Do you think this is the best of Gyllenhaal's work (I'm still waiting on Secretary, though it's not far away in my Netflix queue)?  Is anyone a particularly large fan of this film (it did surprisingly well with critics)?  And does anyone want to make the case for putting Gyllenhaal over one of the five nominated ladies at the Oscars in 2006?  The comments are there for the taking!

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