Review: “Sherrybaby”

This weekend we finished up watching Sherrybaby, a film in which Maggie Gyllenhaal expertly plays a blonde-haired, blue-eyed train wreck in a halter top. Sherry has just been released from prison after a stint for drug-related offenses, and spends the rest of the movie trying stay clean, hold down a job, and reconnect with her daughter (who is being raised by her brother and sister-in-law).  Sherry seems to have only one way of relating to most men (hence the halter top); she’s spoiled, immature, narcissistic, and repeatedly displays staggeringly poor judgment.  She fights, she lies, she manipulates; in particular, a scene in which she hijacks a dinner party to sing “Eternal Flame” is simply excruciating.  At one point I said to my wife, “I keep waiting for her to make the right decision, and she never does.”

So now that I’ve made this movie sound unwatchable, let me add that it’s riveting.  The performances are uniformly excellent, from Maggie Gyllenhaal (who’s in every scene) down to Ryan Simpkins as her daughter, Alexis.  The film is gritty and believable but not sentimental and manages to let you see just how bleak Sherry’s situation is without being utterly depressing.  The contrast between Sherry’s tawdry life of motel rooms and halfway houses contrasts sharply with the upper-class life of her father (his house is a palace in comparison) in a way that at first seems sad, but ultimately becomes infuriating. The pacing is just about perfect; when my wife said, “How did she get so messed up?”, we found out ten minutes later.  Stop reading my wife’s mind, Laurie Collyer!

Sherrybaby put my wife to sleep in a little over an hour, at which point she made me turn it off so we could finish watching it later.  It took us about two weeks to get back to it (we’ve been busy with the now-local Fred Astaire lately), but we finally did.  You may find it painful to watch Sherry make one bad choice after another, but stick with her until the end of the film.  It’s worth the ride.