Sunday, September 28, 2014


Originally Written and Posted at on 2/1/07 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions

Written and directed by Laurie Collyer, Sherrybaby tells the story of a young woman who returns from prison after an arrest for robbery as she tries to reconnect with the young daughter she left behind while dealing with new realities. The film is an exploration of a drug addict trying to find redemption as she also hopes to win back her daughter as the role of Sherry Swanson is played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Also starring Sam Bottoms, Giancarlo Esposito, Danny Trejo, Brad William Henke, Kate Burton, Bridget Barkan, and Ryan Simpkins. Sherrybaby is a compelling yet harrowing film from Laurie Collyer.

After a three-year stint in prison, Sherry Swanson is released on parole while arriving onto Newark, New Jersey. Meeting her parole officer Hernandez (Giancarlo Esposito), Sherry is forced to live in an inpatient safe-house where she’s given curfew while living with other recovering addicts. Calling her brother Bobby (Brad William Henke), she wonders if she can visit his home where for the past few years, he's been taking care of her daughter Alexis (Ryan Simpkins) with wife Lynette (Bridget Barkan). After meeting a counselor named Andy (Rio Hackford), she continues to use her sex appeal to get a job working with children. When Bobby decides to let her sleep out for a night in their home, she finally meets her daughter Alexis though the meeting ends up being awkward. After attending a recovering addicts meeting, she meets a former addict/counselor named Dean (Danny Trejo) who knew her when she was just a stripper at the age of 16.

After a spat with a fellow housemate in the safe-house, Sherry leaves the house only to sleep on the patio of her brother’s home. Lynette finds Sherry to be uncomfortable as Alexis keeps calling her mother by her first name to infuriate Sherry. When Sherry and Bobby's father (Sam Bottoms) arrives for a dinner, Sherry's demand for attention from her daughter and father becomes troubling as the tension between Sherry and Lynette over Alexis is brewing. Bobby had no choice but to have Sherry live in a nearby motel. Wanting some company, she calls Dean where the two have a good time.

Sherry's parole officer Hernandez learns that she left the safe-house and wants to arrest but she finally got the job that she wanted. Working with kids, Sherry feels fulfilled even with her relationship with Dean. Hoping to win her daughter through presents for her upcoming birthday party, Sherry decides to attend her daughter's party by surprise. The presents Sherry brought seemed to go right but it doesn't. Sherry wonders what is she doing wrong as she is comforted by her father in which, Bobby learns the root of Sherry's troubles. The failure at the birthday party brings Sherry back to her demons as she begins to have a hard day as Dean learns of her newfound troubles while Hernandez gets the truth over what has happened. With Sherry now facing an uncertain future, she is forced to deal with new realities while wondering if she is capable of being a responsible mother.

While films about addiction and recovery isn't new and writer/director Laurie Collyer is aware of that. Collyer instead goes into the realm of character study in which the film is really character-driven about a young woman like Sherry who is trying to do right yet struggles. Despite the lack of originality, Collyer's observant direction and screenplay does create situations and moments in which audiences can understand. Especially when it comes to addiction and how hard it is to recover. A character like Sherry can't be someone with a heart of gold. She's selfish, abusive at times, and even out of control yet there's a side of her that is good but is having a hard time trying to balance it out.

When the film deals the awkward relationship between Sherry and her daughter Alexis, it's clear that Sherry wants to be a good mother yet is barely out of her own youth and at times, acts like a child whenever she's around her father and Alexis is not sure how to react to her mother. There's a part during the family dinner sequence that reveals Sherry's selfishness and wanting some attention where she sings a song. What doesn't work in that scene is that song. Still, Collyer brings a very strong film that feels real to its genre.

Cinematographer Russell Lee Fine does excellent work with the film's colorful, cinematic style with some wonderful shading and intimate shots in some of the film's night, exterior and interior sequences. Production designer Stephen Beatrice and set decorator Lisa Scoppa also brings grit and realism to the inpatient safe-house where it looks very dirty with the contrasting look that Bobby lives in as the whole film is shot on location in New Jersey. Costume designer Jill Newell does excellent work in the clothes she gives Maggie's character from the sexy, halter-tops and blouses along with tight jeans to the more stringy, thin dresses she wears. Editors Curtiss Clatyon and Joe Landauer do excellent work in bringing a rhythmic, leisurely-pace to the editing with wonderful perspective cuts in which nearly every frame features Gyllenhaal. Music composer Jack Livesey brings a moody, atmospheric, guitar-driven score to convey the emotions with additional music from Dana Fuchs bringing some folk-rock cuts to the film.

The cast is wonderfully assembled with notable small performances from Rio Hackford as a counselor, Kate Burton as Sherry's stepmother, Caroline Clay as Hernandez's officer, and Sam Bottoms as Sherry's brooding father. Kate Burton is good as Lynette who is aware of Sherry's troubling behavior while having to be the mother for Alexis. Ryan Simpkins gives a realistic, natural performance as the four-year old Alexis who is unsure of how to react to her mother as the confusion is wonderfully played as Simpkins is excellent. Giancarlo Esposito is wonderfully understated as a strict, honest parole officer who plays tough but plays fair as he tries to be one of the few allies that Sherry has despite his strictness.

Danny Trejo, known for playing tough guys, is wonderfully humble as the wise, sympathetic Dean who tires to help out Sherry while making aware of how hard recovery is. Brad William Henke is also great as the sympathetic brother who tries to be father to Alexis while is very low key in dealing with the guilt over his sister's behavior and how he wants to help her. Finally, there's Maggie Gyllenhaal in a phenomenal performance as Sherry as this young woman trying to do right as she deals with her setbacks and her inability to be a mother as it's Gyllenhaal in one of her finest performances.

Sherrybaby is an excellent film from Laurie Collyer that features an incredible performance from Maggie Gyllenhaal. While it's a film that doesn't say anything new about addiction, it is still a compelling story that explores a woman trying to redeem herself for her actions as well as her struggle to stay clean. In the end, Sherrybaby is a superb film from Laurie Collyer.

© thevoid99 2014


ruth said...

Wow, I had no idea Danny Trejo is in this, as a former addict/counselor no less! I'm curious to check it out just for that, plus I love Maggie Gyllenhaal!

thevoid99 said...

He's the real scene-stealer in the film where he isn't just a man full of charm but also has some sensitivity which was really surprising as it shows what kind of range he has.