Laurie Collyer/USA/2006; R4
Madman, NZ$29.95 | Reviewed by Catherine Bisley

WEARING a yellow singlet top, sporting yellow hair, and with a brown paper bag in hand, Sherry slouches off the bus and onto the city streets. Just released from jail, she heads through a down-and-out neighbourhood to the half-way house. Here she introduces herself as a number. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Sherry is emotionally young, yet physically tough. She is beautiful, but believably so. And she has a great walk. Sherrybaby tracks her attempts to reconnect with the world and with her daughter, Alexis. She meets with plenty of adversity: unfeeling parole officers, aggressive housemates and the machinations of a doe-eyed sister-in-law. On top of this, the return to using constantly threatens.

Then there are the numerous guys who want a piece. While Sherry’s bent over the vacuum cleaner, Andy, the pony-tailed smarmy bloke who runs the half-way house, takes a shine to her. They discuss the “Genesis Recovery” program before heading to the basement for a hard fuck on a bench. Throughout the film Sherry turns to her sexual power in an attempt to fight her way up from the bottom of the heap. It is when Sherry has to work other tricks that her character is revealed. Sherry’s emotional immaturity and sexual promiscuity makes it easy to feel sorry for her, but difficult to connect with her. Sherry’s epiphany – she can’t cope when Alexis pees her pants, meaning she realises she is unable to be a mother on her own yet – comes too late.

Gyllenhaal’s performance captures childlike qualities in a way that Ryan Simpkins, as Alexis, doesn’t. Simpkins is distractingly aware of the camera; this is problematic given that the script pivots on the mother daughter relationship. On the other hand, Dean Walker (Danny Trejo), the older, pockmarked Indian man who Sherry begins to form a meaningful relationship with, is great. Trejo works against his hardened crim looks. You almost suspect the role was written for him, he’s that good at it.

A sexual abuse revelation, no doubt put in to give a clear psychological reason as to why middle-class Sherry turned to drugs and promiscuous sex, labours the point. You already knew something was awry. What’s more, the fact Sherry’s brother Bobby accidentally walks on this scene, where their father’s comforting of Sherry turns into fondling her breast, and does nothing about it, was not explored. I became a little confused as to what the film was trying to say about Bobby at this juncture, especially given the bluntness of other scenes. Sherry explains why she went to prison to Alexis “Mummy stole etc” and then a few scenes later she does the narcotics anonymous “I’m Sherry and...” spiel. Sherry’s environment, her relationships, and the well-pitched visual tone of the film, wordlessly hint at the truth of her world.

I did enjoy Sherrybaby, but when it was over I was left with the feeling that despite some great acting, the film’s characters and themes were not fully realised. If the various elements had been more fully orchestrated, the grating psychological reasoning would have been even more redundant.

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Sherrybaby is released on (rental only) DVD on September 12, followed by a retail release in October. Special features are yet to be confirmed.