“Sherrybaby” is one of those movies that is hard to review because half the time it’s a battle between whether one is being critical of the film as a whole or just being critical of the main character. For example, Gyllenhaal’s Sherry is self-absorbed, weak and ultimately low on the like-ability scale. Throughout the film her “me me me” actions illicit little sympathy, and a subplot involving sexual abuse at the hands of her father may offer the motivation or cause of her issues, but they do not justify. Does that mean the film is equally as weak and lost? Well, no, but that’s a problem as well as the film never rises or lowers to any level other than its own middle mediocrity.
Picking up after Sherry’s release from prison / rehab, “Sherrybaby” tells the story of a clean and invigorated Sherry as she attempts to reconcile with her family and reclaim her role as parent to her daughter. First in a halfway house, second at home with her brother and sister-in-law and finally with her own place, Sherry slowly re-acclimates herself to the world she left. If only her version of re-acclimating didn’t involve random sexual trysts (the first one, sure, she’s been in prison and why not but… she wields her sexuality less like a weapon of feminine power and more like an easy answer to whatever situation presents itself), drug re-lapse (short-lived, but still another easy answer) and an almost attempted kidnapping.
This is not to say that Maggie Gyllenhaal does a bad job. Quite the opposite, really, as she perfectly portrays that person who can’t seem to understand why the roof is falling when they’re pulling it down on their own heads. Always feeling put upon, but never taking full responsibility, Sherry could cause a stirring of sympathy if and when she finally accepts her role in her problems. The issue is that throughout the film she rarely comes close, except in bouts of self-pity, and we’re left to figure out if we even care.
Stepping away from the main character for a second, Danny Trejo is offered a more substantial role than in most films he’s appeared in, and he acquits himself nicely, showing a flair for humor and emotion that has not necessarily been fully realized in his tough guy roles. Ryan Simpkins’s role as Sherry’s daughter is also unbelievable, as we’re treated to a child actor where every action is what one would expect from a real child. I know, you’re thinking “well, of course, a kid is going to be a kid” but… it’s not necessarily so. It’s like there was no realization that a camera was in the room, no feel that there was ever any acting involved. Whenever Ryan is onscreen, it could’ve been a documentary. When it comes to child actors, that’s an impressive feat.
The film as a whole is vaguely entertaining but due to the unsympathetic nature of the lead character, it’s hard to emotionally invest in the film beyond that feeling of watching yet another Jerry Springer-friendly family adventure. It’s simply unexceptional.