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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir-scr Laurie Collyer|
with Maggie Gyllenhaal, Brad William Henke, Danny Trejo, Sam Bottoms, Giancarlo Esposito, Bridget Barkan, Ryan Simpkins, Kate Burton, Rio Hackford, Caroline Clay, Michelle Hurst, Stephen Peabody
release US 8.Sep.06, UK 27.Jul.07
06/US IFC 1h36
Odd couple: Gyllenhaal and Trejo
With a raw, startlingly honest central performance from Gyllenhaal, this observational drama really gets under the skin of a woman trying to get her life back on track against overpowering odds.
Sherry Swanson (Gyllenhaal) was on heroin from age 16 to 22. Clean for two and a half years, she's out of jail but still has a long way to go. Her daughter (Simpkins) is living with her brother and sister-in-law (Henke and Barkan), who are understandably reticent to trust Sherry with her care. Especially when she gets herself thrown out of the halfway house. Another fellow ex-addict (Trejo) understands, but she's going to have to convince everyone to give her a break, whatever it takes. And the trickiest one will be her tough but fair parole officer (Esposito).
Writer-director Collyer assembles this with a wide-eyed openness that continually catches us off guard. Sherry is such an unusual movie antihero that we're never quite sure what to make of her--a collision of naiveté, ambition and hotheadedness that's both deeply likeable and terrifying. And Gyllenhaal finds a fascinating physicality in the role, flouncing around in skimpy party-girl outfits because she knows the effect this has on men around her. She's adorable with her daughter (and with other children), even though she hasn't a clue about motherhood. But she's also furious with the world--dismissive, demanding and attention-seeking.
It's a terrific performance, mainly because it's so gut-wrenchingly real. And the cast around her is just as authentic, most notably Trejo, who's never had the chance to play anyone even remotely like this. The film is loaded with telling glances and throwaway moments that highlight the vile misogynist system Sherry struggles against: to the men in control, she's only good for one thing, so how can she ever get out of this cycle? Every conversation is packed with subtext, every character breaks stereotypes as they make all the wrong decisions for all the right reasons.
Yes, the film is rather slow and offhanded, but it's also hugely important as a compassionate portrait of addiction, discovering tiny glimmers of hope in unexpected places and quietly revealing how painful truly selfless love can be.
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© 2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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