Now that Library cardholders can take advantage of the free hoopla digital  download service, we’ve asked Library public affairs staffer and former Kansas City Star movie editor Robert W. Butler to search the hoopla catalog for hidden gems of cinema.
Maggie Gyllenhaal won a slew of acting awards for her portrayal of a paroled junkie in 2006’s Sherrybaby . Ironically, the movie never played on a Kansas City theater screen.
Too rough. Too lacerating.
Gyllenhaal, then 28, is devastating as Sherry Swanson, recently paroled after doing time for a drug conviction. Now she's struggling to stay straight and reconnect with the young daughter she hasn't
seen for three years.
The film's limited distribution is understandable. This is a hair-raisingly grim movie featuring a character whose behavior is often dreadful. But Gyllenhaal's performance elevates the story and the character. By the time this borderline-painful movie ends, you feel you’ve eavesdropped on fellow human’s soul.
Sherry's a hard character to warm up to. She has a foul mouth, a bad attitude, and dresses like a parody of white trash. She's perfectly willing to trade sexual favors to ensure better treatment at the halfway house or at the employment agency.
Her saving grace is her love for her daughter, who has been reared by Sherry's phlegmatic but decent brother and his wife. The couple is understandably wary of Sherry, whose pre-jail behavior put the little girl at risk. Besides, the two have bonded with the child and are reluctant to let her go.
We’ve seen many of the elements in this film before — AA meetings, drink, drugs, temptations. But Gyllenhaal's performance freshens every cliche.
No, it’s not fun. But it is awesome.
About the Author
Robert W. Butler  is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at butlerscinemascene.com . He joined the Library's Public Affairs team in 2012.