Sherry Swanson is a child in a woman’s body. She’s petty, selfish, immature, completely void of anything resembling public etiquette, and is utterly self-deprecating. She’s willing to do whatever it takes to get what she wants, hates herself for it, and simply has no idea how to stop. Some viewers will be hard pressed to find some sort of sympathy for this character. She’s unlikable, despicable, and utterly obnoxious at times take for example her competing for her father’s attention with her own daughter. But she’s simply the result of a young girl who hasn’t been in the real world, a young woman who is still a baby that hasn’t received the proper help necessary. If there’s any help for her at all.
She’s also headed down a path of self-destruction and endless pitfalls, thanks to her inability, and lack of knowledge of change. Collyer’s film pulls us into the character of Sherry, with moments of sheer discomfort brought upon Sherry’s insistence on forcing herself back into her child’s happy life. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s performance is wonderful, diving into this character that has barely anything worth sympathizing with, and completely disappears into this woman who just has no chance of surviving in the real world. As the story unfolds, she falls apart more and more and we watch as she disintegrates the further away her daughter drifts. Collyer’s film is pretty uncomfortable at times, as we watch Sherry rendered irrelevant in her own family, and angered at her daughter’s dismissal of her affection.
2006 was the year when Maggie Gyllenhaal not only fleshed out her career, but showed she was capable of a variety of roles. “Sherrybaby” would be the role of her career yet, a tragic character with the child-like face that has to fight to win her daughter. But the tragedy is not in Sherry’s life, but more of her child Alexis who is confused and torn between the people she loves, and the person she’s told to love. Sherry has no idea of the damage she’s inflicting on the people she loves, including her put upon brother Bobby who is struggling to please his wife and keep his sister together, her sister in law Lynette who rightfully lords her influence over Sherry’s child Alexis, and her parole officer who spells her inevitable re-entry into prison and the system.
Danny Trejo sports an otherwise good supporting performance as a counselor who gains a relationship with her and keeps her on the straight and narrow, while Collyer explores the deeper meaning behind Sherry’s constant failures in a rather disturbing light. After the second half audiences will be further pressed to sympathize for her, but in the end, she’s still a snake eating her own tail. Maggie Gyllenhaal pulls in possibly the best performance of her career as the multi-dimensional tragicharacter Sherry, a adult who still has growing up to do, if she doesn’t destroy her own life in the process. Collyer’s film is uncomfortable, disturbing, and rather disheartening.