Maggie Gyllenhaal gives a heart-rending, Oscar-worthy performance in Sherrybaby, written and directed by Laurie Collyer. Gyllenhaal plays Sherry Swanson, a former teenage heroin addict coming off a three year prison sentence and trying to stay clean and get her life back on track. Sherry also wants desperately to be reunited with her young daughter, Alexis (Ryan Simpkins) , who has been cared for by Sherry's brother Bob (Brad William Henke) and his wife Lynette (Bridget Barkan) in her absence. Sherry checks into a halfway house, looks for a job, meets with her parole officer, goes to twelve-step meetings, and struggles to reestablish trust and love with Alexis, who has come to view Lynette as a mother-figure in Sherry's absence. A dark secret of sexual abuse lurks in the closet of Sherry's past, though, and she keeps tripping over the consequences of not resolving her issues around the past.
Sherrybaby is a superbly intense film - not in the thriller film sense, but in the way you come to feel so much for the characters: Bob, torn between his love for his sister, and his love for his wife, who resents Sherry's return; Alexis, torn between the mother-figure who has cared for her and her real mother, who wants her daughter's love so tangibly, you can almost reach through the screen and touch it, and most of all Sherry. You can't help but root silently for her, even as you want to smack her for some of the choices she makes. Gyllenhaal gives the best performance of her career to date in this film, and she's a superb actress, so that's saying a lot. When she stands up at the dinner table to poignantly sing The Bangles "Eternal Flame" to her daughter - a serenade of her love for the child she has never taken proper care of, and her own ardent desire to be a good mother, Gyllenhaal radiates maternal love and desperation.