Monday, July 30, 2007


Written & Directed By: Laurie Collyer

Starring: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Brad William Henke, Sam Bottoms

My rating: 4/5

Despite the vast array of substance addiction films available, few have managed to tap into the humanity of it all as Sherrybaby. It is an intense experience focussing squarely on its central character throughout. Sherry has just been released from prison, an addict and an overall broken woman. After her release she returns to the daughter she left behind. Complications arise when her brother and his wife, who have raised her daughter from birth are unsure of Sherry’s ability to care for a child. Don’t be put off if it sounds like your average daytime TV3 movie, it is far more conflicted, thoughtful and layered than that.

The film never strays from Sherry’s point of view but as the audience sees her engaging in questionable behaviour on several occasions, it creates an awkward feeling that her brother and sister-in-law may be right to oppose her taking back her daughter. Sherry is a complex woman, who we only get to know properly very slowly over the course of the movie. She is sweet and kind, but addicted, not only to drugs, but to the seedy side of life in general.

Director Laurie Collyer reigns supreme here by foregoing any fancy cinematography or the popular “shaky-cam” documentary style and just shooting the film as simply as possible. She remembers at all times to keep Sherry at the centre of every scene and forces the audience to identify with her and question her in equal measures.

The performances are fantastic from a largely unknown cast. Especially heart-wrenching is Brad William Henke who plays Sherry’s brother, caught between his love and pity for his sister, and his doubt in her ability to be a mother. Similarly to this year’s other indie addict flick Half Nelson, Sherrybaby has at its heart a truly beautiful performance from its titular character. Unfortunately the Academy felt Half Nelson’s Ryan Gosling more deserving of an Oscar nomination than Maggie Gyllenhaal. This is a powerful performance from a woman who is clearly not afraid of anything. She gives herself over to being a complete train-wreck of a human being, but always playing it likeably. She ensures she has enough innocence and sweetness to never allow herself to become a villain.

Overall, this is an intensely personal film, in which the audience can’t help but connect with due to its profound closeness to its protagonist. Not your average date movie, but despite a slightly frustrating ending, definitely recommended from this reviewer.

-Charlene Lydon 30/7/07

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Dixie Chicks: Shut Up And Sing

"I'm ashamed that the President is from Texas"

Directed by: Barbara Kopple & Cecilia Peck

Starring: The Dixie Chicks

My Rating: 4/5

A documentary about three loud, big-haired country music sensations may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but don’t let your feelings on The Dixie Chicks deter you from this riveting documentary. In 2003, Natalie Maines, outspoken lead singer of America’s biggest selling female group of all-time, commented at a London gig that she was “ashamed that the President is from Texas”. News quickly spread from a small blurb in the British press to a big issue in the American press and quickly became the biggest scandal to hit country music. Because of America’s insecurity over its war against Iraq at the time, but the unwavering trust in their democracy, the U.S. public took this comment as unpatriotic and unsupportive of their troops and the former media darlings soon become known as “Saddam’s Angels” and “The Dixie Sluts”. Radio stations banned their songs from the airwaves and communities organised public CD burnings. The outrage even culminated in a death threat against Maines.

The documentary’s broken narrative focuses on the time between the incident and the release of their subsequent album. Most of the time spent in the studio sees the girls struggling with how they need to react to this huge career setback and although they have their moments of doubt, they bravely take a stand and refuse to apologise for something they feel they had every right to say. Far from being a propaganda project for the band, it takes the audience through the self-doubt and the tantrums and the very un-rock n roll financial concerns that the incident caused. However, it does show the heroic stand that the girls took in sticking together and not giving in to the enormous pressure to crawl back to the public and beg for forgiveness.

What is so great about this documentary is that it is interesting on so many levels. It works as an interesting behind-the-music style documentary about a very popular band, it works as a Michael Moore-ish comment on the redneck delusion that seems to grip certain parts of the United States, but it also works as an interesting look at the music industry. It shows the commercial issues and how they are worked through but it is also a refreshingly frank look at a band crawling back to the top from rock bottom by doing exactly the opposite of what they should have: they released an angry album full of songs about how they refuse to forgive their detractors for their judgement.

Perhaps its biggest flaw is the focus on how sweet and wholesome the girls are. Of course, some empathy is necessary but there’s slightly too much indulgence in the “mommy” part of their lives, and how cuddly they all are. However, having said that, it is refreshing to see a music documentary which features morally heroic musicians instead of drug-addled rock stars and focuses on the very human struggle between commercial success and dignity.

Overall, this documentary is a pleasure to watch. Entertaining, frightening and uplifting; if you’re a fan of The Dixie Chicks, you’ll find the soundtrack an aural delight, if you’re not, you’ll tolerate it for the quality of the subject matter. Highly recommended!

- Charlene Lydon 12/07/07