Review No. 481
The more it does “Speak”, the more powerful it becomes.
DIRECTED BY JESSICA SHARZER. PRODUCED BY SHARZER, FRED BERNER, MATTHEW MYERS, AND ANNIE YOUNG FRISBIE. SCREENPLAY BY SHARZER AND FRISBIE. BASED ON THE NOVEL BY LAURIE HALSE ANDERSON. STARRING KRISTEN STEWART (MELINDA SORDINO), MICHAEL ANGARANO (DAVE PETRAKIS), ROBERT JOHN BURKE (MR. NECK), ERIC LIVELY (ANDY EVANS), ELIZABETH PERKINS (JOYCE SORDINO), D. B. SWEENEY (JACK SORDINO), AND STEVE ZAHN (MR. FREEMAN). ALSO STARRING HALLEE HIRSH, TONY ROSEBORO, AND ALLISON SIKO. DISTRIBUTED BY SHOWTIME NETWORKS, INC. ON JANUARY 20, 2004. PRODUCED IN ENGLISH BY THE UNITED STATES. RUNS 1 HOUR, 32 MINUTES. RATED PG-13 BY THE MPAA, FOR MATURE THEMATIC MATERIAL INVOLVING A TEEN RAPE.
SPEAK WAS WATCHED ON MAY 18, 2013.
“I have never heard a more eloquent silence.” –Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
On the outside, it’s embracing the clichés of a teen drama ever so obliviously. Our characters are merely Hollywood high schoolers. We have the insecure, bitchy, blonde girls who have nothing better to do than gossip. The annoying kid who we realize is neglected, but we also realize it’s probably because he/she just doesn’t shut up. The guy that doesn’t seem like anything special to the protagonist, but seems cuter to her as the story progresses. The parents who just couldn’t care much less what’s going on in their daughter’s life. But as the story moves on, these one-dimensional caricatures rise up as three-dimensional…well, people, and for that matter, ordinary people.
Speaking of ordinary people, Speak is a lot like 1980′s Ordinary People, and when Speak speaks, it speaks a powerful tale. We begin after the horrifying events that turned an outgoing girl like Melinda Sordino (Kristen Stewart) into the shy girl who, in her buried state, decides to stop speaking and notices a certain beauty that cannot be expressed by words. Melinda was raped the summer before she entered her freshman year. She was at a party, and when she dialed 9-1-1, she was far too shocked to report the incident. When the cops arrived, she was still more traumatized then ever, and she was, thus, labelled a “squealer” by everyone at the party.
Melinda experiences numerous flashbacks to the incident during the course of the film. Yet she can’t admit to anyone that she was raped, and she’s desperately trying to convince herself that she wasn’t. She decides that she can’t live her life hell-bent on lying to herself and blinding everyone around her from the truth. When her parents notice her grades dropping significantly, they seek help for her. Now Melinda must find a way to rub away her scars, rather than pretend she can’t feel them.
Speak features Kristen Stewart in a tour de force role. In so-called “efforts” such as Twilight and Snow White and the Huntsman, Kristen barely acts. Her monotonous, melancholy facial expressions, rapid-fire verbal delivery, and insomniac build have earned her much negativity in recent years. Yet all this seems to fit in this earlier drama. She makes the role of a disturbed teenager seem easy to portray, and it’s not. She always looks depressed. When she does speak, it’s generally in quick, broken stutters. What makes her twenty-three-year-old self look sleepless, made her thirteen-year-old self look miserable. Even her nervous breakdowns can be difficult to watch, simply because they’re performed well.
Speak isn’t a movie one watches over and over. Its disappearance into the “TV movie” nomenclature–despite a premiere at the Sundance Film Festival over a year and a half prior–leads me to believe that the movie never got the love it deserves. As previously mentioned, it does build off sheer caricatures. But it also builds those into a poignant, gripping slice of life. I may have teared up near the end, but I was too focused on Melinda to worry over my own matters.