Eye For Film >> Movies >> Sherrybaby (2005) Film Review
The rehabilitation of an ex-convict can provide juicy stories so this should be no exception, as glamorous, short-skirted jailbird Sherry Swanson (Maggie Gyllenhaal from Secretary) leaves prison yearning desperately to be re-united with her young and very lovable child Alexis. The telling of the story tries hard not to follow conventions and seems to have considerable integrity, yet by building high expectations it almost inevitably charms and disappoints in equal measure.
With a beautiful background song, Some Kind of Heaven, we join Sherry as she starts parole and arrives at a half-way house, Bible in hand, full of excitement and hope. Her character, skilfully conveyed by Gyllenhaal, alternates between that of a warm, charismatic individual and the more archetypal ex-prisoner. She has worked hard to reform herself during her incarceration, kicking drugs, studying parenting courses, developing her faith, and now has a beautiful warm smile that melts cold hearts; but just when you might worry about being subjected to an hour and a half of saccharin, she snaps when pushed, swears copiously, threatens a fellow ex-con who pushes her around and, when the employment manager looks set to consign her to waiting tables in a restaurant, tells him frankly, "I'll suck your dick if you give me the job I want."
Starting a new life and getting back with her daughter proves hard as events conspire against her. Someone from Sherry's rehab programme recognises her from a strip club where she worked at age sixteen; her parole officer is hard on her just at the time when her dream job starts taking off; Alexis' foster parents are rightly cautious about having her around, and her father is a pervert. At first she uses sex as a release for her jealousies and frustrations with life, but soon progresses to alcohol and worse. Her self-confidence worn down, she realises she is only angry at herself and her inability to cope as well as she would like. Ironically, and perhaps with more humour than intended, she admits, "I'm just mad cos I suck."
At one point she rejects a down to earth life-changing programme in favour of her Good Book, and sceptics might feel that leaning on religion in this way hardly does her any favours. Sherry's problem is maybe that she wants to 'reform' only to the extent she deems necessary to raise her child, but her comprehension of the task facing her is like that of someone looking through a keyhole.
Realistic fly-on-the-wall performances prevent Sherrybaby from descending into a sentimental hard luck story. Society feels sympathy for someone in her predicament, but society - and also the law - feels even more concern when a defenceless child is caught up in it too. The task of reintegrating with the outside world may be an almost impossible one, and Sherry fights bravely (even if we disapprove of some of her methods) but the increasing worry - and one that the movie, to its credit, doesn't dodge - is for the well-being of Alexis. Even left to her own devices (which she isn't), Alexis, unable to comprehend the complexity of what's happening around her, would probably gravitate to those adults radiating the emotional stability of her foster parents rather than the gushing love coupled with violent verbal or physical outbursts of her real mother. In one scene, Sherry violently rebukes a parent who is shaking and berating her son. Whatever the moral justification, Alexis is frightened and backs away.
Sherrybaby's weakness is that meanders on too long for the amount of underlying plot. Repeated family reunions add little to the story and begin to look like a TV documentary that goes on just slightly past its sell-by date. But to its credit it tackles a difficult subject with honesty, includes some gutsy performances, doesn't flinch from including very believable adult subject matter, and is quite enjoyable as long as you don't expect too much.Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2006