SherryBaby (2006) / Drama
MPAA Rated: R for strong sexuality, nudity, language, and drug content
Running Time: 96 min.
Cast: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Brad William Henke, Giancarlo Esposito, Ryan Simpkins, Danny Trejo, Bridget Barkan, Sam Bottoms, Kate Burton, Rio Hackford
Director: Laurie Collyer
Screenplay: Laurie Collyer
SherryBaby is a character study of a recovering drug addict, showing the difficulties of the attempt for "damaged goods" to assimilate back into society. In this case, that addict is Sherry Swanson (Gyllenhaal, Mona Lisa Smile), recently released on parole after being convicted of stealing in order to fund her pricy drug habit. Before being sent to prison, she had given birth to a baby girl, Alexis (Simpkins), and the only thing that has kept her motivated to do good is the thought that she might be able to reunite with the daughter she took for granted. However, Sherry finds the world a bit more difficult for her as a convicted felon, as jobs are hard to come by, the parole officer shows little sympathy, and her family is playing emotional tug-of-war with Alexis's feelings. It's enough to make a recovering drug addict go back into the life she swore she would never go back to, if only to escape.
Other than Gyllenhaal's fantastic performance as Sherry, perhaps the most commendable aspect of this emotional drama is its honest delivery. Showing subtle development and emotional commitment, writer-director Laurie Collyer (Nuyorican Dream) examines the rehabilitation of Sherry without sugarcoating, showing all of her less-than-admirable qualities -- she's a very flawed individual. However, we can't help but feel for the woman, as she wants wholeheartedly to get her act together, trying to pick up the mess that is her life, probably imagining that everything would be great once she got out of prison, only to find that the resistance to accept her exists with no perceivable reasons why. It's heartbreaking to see how Sherry has cleaned up her act, wanting to be loved unconditionally by her little girl and the rest of her family, but never seemingly able to make that connection that will allow her that happiness she so desperately craves.
Although this is strong subject matter, not to be taken lightly, Collyer's delivery never overdoes the material, always touching on larger subjects, but never in an overt manner. Throughout the film, we get the sense of the hows and whys of Sherry's troubled existence, but Collyer never uses any of the developments as obvious revelations, allowing us, as viewers, to draw our own conclusions. We feel there is a darker history that Sherry and her brother Bobby (Henke, North Country) share, though it always resides under the surface. He wants to help her, but he is loyal to the feelings of his manipulative wife Lynette (Barkan, Everyday People), who is very reluctant to accept Sherry and the new dimension she brings to their lives.
If there has ever been a film that made me feel like drug addicts actually are worthy of second chances in life, SherryBaby is it. In this small but effective story, we honestly do feel for the main character, following her painfully brave attempts to stay clean and be somebody, employing a great deal of self-sacrifice in order to get what she so desperately needs. It's a hopeful film, but at the same time, heartbreaking, as the branding of convicted addicts as unsavory people makes it difficult for them to ever go straight. Jut as the difficulties of life made the drugs so appealing to begin with, the fact that life is even harder on the road to recovery only makes the recidivism rate high, and in the case of Sherry Swanson, it would be almost understandable.
©2006 Vince Leo