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Sherrybaby | Review

Bringing up Baby

White trash drama focuses on coming clean both physically and mentally.

It’s safe to say that this ain’t a pretty picture. Developed at the Sundance Filmmakers Lab, Laurie Collyer offers a no frills look at life through the bottom of a coke bottle. The key word here is “coke” – as in the white powdery stuff and the lure it has on its victims. While Sherryberry does very little to romanticize the plight of the protagonist by abiding to a texture that is raw, this addiction drama unfortunately treads through the gamut of possible emotions and situations thus labeling itself as an afternoon special – for adults.

What’s wrong with mommie? Plenty. Collyer explores substance abuse and cleaning up one’s act by remaining true to its form – choosing the language and the backdrop to match the material. This examination of one souls’ search to get back onto the right track and into her young daughter’s life takes viewer’s from the detox to the withdrawal phase, to bad influences and back again. Working itself as a portrait of trying to survive in the system that has failed on every level, the film literally places the viewer in the shoes of the protagonist. Graphic sex sequences are unattractive – it serves as a bartering tool for the unskilled. Credit Maggie Gyllenhaal for making herself into the most unappealing screen starlet since Charlize’s take in Monster and for filtering the sentiment of being unwanted.

An excruciatingly slow pacing, lack of aesthetic treatment or filmic style and an unlikable cast of characters doesn’t do the film any favors – the only possible lure here is the stripped-down performance from the lead actress. Gyllenhaal who unlike the brilliance she exerted in a role like Secretary has difficulty wearing the white trash hat – it’s clearly a role that doesn’t suit her and the improvisational characteristic of the film makes for many awkward moments that could have been edited out. Looking outside the window of a bus should never eat up so much screen time when the story is filled with some many statement-making sequences.

The narrative seems apt at retooling the discussion of how society rejects crack addicts and bad mothering techniques. There is an alarming moment towards the film’s end that explains the root of why this character has perhaps found herself in the gutter. It’s disappointing that it seems to be added to the cycle instead of becoming the pivotal defining climax of the film, instead the best thing that this tale can do is show the take responsibility and become an adult by making her first “adult” decision route. From the overall digital look, to the characters that populate the space, to the amount of empathy that the characters fail to extract from the viewer, Collyer’s original screenplay lacks terribly in originality. SherryBaby is a film that should exist – it perhaps needed a better design.

Sundance 2006. Jan 26th

Rating 1.5 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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