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Maggie Gyllenhaal gives a stunning performance as a drug addict trying to reconnect with her daughter after being paroled.


The story starts just as Sherry (Gyllenhaal), a heroin addict who went to prison for robbing a bank, is getting out on parole. Her brother (Brad William Henke) and sister-in-law (Bridget Barkan) have been raising her young daughter, Alexis (Ryan Simpkins), and Sherry finds that the girl's loyalties are torn. Sherry walks the fine line between surviving and relapsing, as the film follows her struggles to stay clean, find a job, and most importantly, win back her daughter's love.


Writer/director Laurie Collyer says she picked Gyllenhaal to play Sherry because, ''I believe she is the most exciting actress of her generation,'' and it's hard to disagree. Gyllenhaal is long overdue for awards recognition. Maybe this is the film that will finally let her break through. In what could be a very unlikable role, the actress makes us sympathize with Sherry's struggles, even when she screws up time after time. Gyllenhaal holds nothing back, stripping casually for the camera in several scenes. It"s uncomfortable watching how accustomed Sherry is to using her body to get what she needs. Despite the revelations about her character--she was a teenager stripper, her father likely abused her--the film, and Gyllenhaal's performance, is never melodramatic. She makes Sherry a fundamentally sunny person, one we really want to see succeed. As her unlikely sponsor and boyfriend, Danny Trejo at first comes off as just another man out to exploit her, but reveals himself to be a good man and a real grounding force. Sherry"s brother Bobby is played by Henke with a quiet patience. Barkan remains sympathetic as his wife, Sherry's main rival for Alexis's love, who doesn't trust Sherry and insists that Alexis stop calling Sherry ''Mommy.'' Simpkins as Alexis is excellent and very natural as she goes from unrestrained joy to seeing her mother again, to eventual fear and mistrust.


Sherrybaby is a low-key indie filmed matter-of-factly, almost like a documentary, with no razzle-dazzle. The naturalness of the film extends from the performances, to the look and the non-intrusive music score. The story is not a new one and could almost play out like a Lifetime movie of the week, except that it so expertly avoids melodrama at every turn. You keep waiting for Sherry to spiral dangerously out of control or to lose her daughter on their one day out, but the film is about small moments and small steps. And in the end, you"re left wanting more, wondering what will happen next to these people. It"s the ultimate testament to a good film.

Bottom Line rated this film 3 stars.