Michael Ward on Wednesday, May 30
There is a simmering dissonance between mom and daughter that somehow survives a number of intense and stressful situations in Megan Griffiths' new film Sadie. In it, Rae (Melanie Lynskey) is a married, single mom to 13-year-old Sadie (Sophia Mitri Schloss), struggling to make ends meet in a sparse but cozy trailer park. Rae's husband is a perpetual soldier in the military, who takes tour after tour to, in the estimation of Rae, look like a hero to everyone while using that heroism to hide the fact that he is, in actuality, a deadbeat father.
With news of another deployment, Rae has had enough, but Sadie is anticipating that her father may nonetheless come home at any time. As a result, she becomes deeply resistant to Rae's interest in a new neighbor, Cyrus (John Gallagher, Jr.), who seems to reciprocate a liking to Sadie's mother.
Griffiths places us right in the middle of the community comings-and-goings. Rae's best friend, Carla (Danielle Brooks), has a son, Francis (Keith L. Williams), who is best friends with Sadie. Offering fold-up chair advice is Deak (Tee Dennard), an elderly man, who serves as something of a town crier and observer. Sadie's school principal (Tony Hale) also carries a keen interest in Rae, but is also concerned about Sadie's well-being as well.
We see how fragile the lives are within these homes and Cyrus' arrival almost instantly tips the delicate balance beyond repair. As Rae feels her way around getting to know Cyrus, Sadie begins to simmer, then reach a boil, angry that her mother is beginning to move past the emptiness of her marriage and simply wanting to feel what it means to be loved again.
Griffiths' script is seething, and she has stated in interviews that she wanted to explore the impact violence has on today's youth. Largely left unsupervised, Sadie, the teenager, becomes something of a cautionary example of how kids can find and become invested in all kinds of subjects, topics, and content in the world they may very well be ill equipped to rationalize correctly.
Ultimately, Sadie metriculates through a story of emotionally vulnerable people simply trying to find a positive break for once. Rae, a nurse by trade, thinks she may have found something in Cyrus, a sense that she is needed and wanted, allowing her to look past some troubling signs and allowing her to potentially be a "fixer." Francis needs Sadie to be his friend, as without her, we sense that he has no one else.
Eventually, all this tension is forced to come to a head and Sadie's final 10-15 minutes may polarize audiences. Emotional though it may be, Griffiths' decision to take us further into a dark and desolate place thematically, makes the film become something far different than we are likely anticipating.
With this performance, and a criminally underseen turn in last year's Lane 1974, Schloss is perhaps the best young actor working today that you have yet to see. In the title role, she carries a tinderbox of emotional vacancy and depth, believably maneuvering through those two extremes with the skill of an actor wise beyond her years.
Lynskey, honored at the 2018 Seattle International Film Festival with Sadie shared as part of their "An Afternoon with Melanie Lynskey" event, continues to create complex and believable characters no matter what she appears in. Together, Rae and Sadie create a family in disarray, though neither seems to know just how fragile everything truly is.
While some elements of Griffiths' screenplay are not as sharp as others, one subplot in particular involving a decision Carla makes feels unnecessary, Sadie works best as a haunting look at how increasingly perilous life can get for young people, when left almost completely to their own devices.
Starring: Melanie Lynskey, Sophia Mitri Schloss, John Gallagher, Jr., Tony Hale, Danielle Brooks, Keith L. Williams, Tee Dennard.
Director: Megan Griffiths
Written by: Megan Griffiths
Running Time: 96 Minutes
May 27 | SIFF Egyptian | 2:30 PM
June 6 | SIFF Egyptian | 6:45 PM