Director: Megan Griffiths
Cast: Sophia Mitri Schloss, Melanie Lynskey, John Gallagher Jr., Danielle Brooks, Tony Hale, Keith L. Williams, Tee Dennard, Justin Thomas Howell
Running Time: 1:36
Release Date: 10/12/18 (limited)
Review by Mark Dujsik | October 11, 2018
The eponymous character in Sadie is a 13-year-old girl who knows more about the world than, perhaps, she should. The central problem is that she understands that world through the lens of a 13-year-old, who hasn't seen anything beyond her home in a trailer park, her school, whatever's on TV, and the writing within the letters of her father, a soldier who has been away for years while serving in Afghanistan. We could expect great things from Sadie (Sophia Mitri Schloss), if she can get through this transitional part of her life without getting into too much trouble.
Trouble, though, seems to be only thing she knows for sure. It's what she does best, because Sadie has learned that trouble gets her what she wants. We spend almost the entirety of writer/director Megan Griffiths' film hoping that Sadie can fulfill the clear promise that she shows, while also being slightly terrified of what seem to be the inevitable ends of the current path she's following.
Her unseen father is the key to her every action. Sadie, who almost always wears military-style jacket like the one her father almost certainly has, idolizes the man. This is true, even though her mother Rae (Melanie Lynskey) tells her that he is signing on for another tour. He'll be gone for another year, at least. While he writes a letter to his daughter every other week, the father's letters to Rae stopped some time ago. Rae tries to help Sadie understand that, even if the girl's father returns home, their home has changed in ways that are irreconcilable.
Rae is already kind of seeing another man, Sadie's school counselor Bradley (Tony Hale), who expects more of Rae than she's willing to give him or at the moment (It's mostly the former). The mother is far more intrigued by Cyrus (John Gallagher Jr.), a former pilot and current mechanic who has just moved into the trailer park. Sadie, meanwhile, spends her days with her younger friend Francis (Keith L. Williams), exploring the cars in a junk yard and trying to keep the kid's bullies at bay.
We get to see two different variations of Sadie's personality in her friendship with the younger boy. There's an awkward moment of adolescent curiosity when the two very quickly kiss among the abandoned carsójust to see what it's like. Then there's the way that she got Francis' primary bully out of the way. He allegedly made a bomb threat to the school, but Sadie explains how she stole the kid's phone while he wasn't looking and made the threat to get him suspended, expelled, or even arrested.
No one would deny that Sadie is fiercely loyal to her family and friends. She even has good relationships with Francis' grandfather Deak (Tee Dennard), a self-proclaimed "old coot" who's teaching the girl to whittle, and the boy's mother Carla (Danielle Brooks), a local bartender who's Rae's best friend. Obviously, she's loyal to her absent father, whom Sadie expects will return that loyalty by coming home one dayóbecause a father, in her mind, is supposed to want to be part of his family.
She hasn't learned that loyalties and feelings can change, even though her own loyalties and feelings are constantly changing. They have especially changed in regards to Rae. Sadie doesn't quite see her mother as an enemy, but she definitely sees her as an obstacle. That a 13-year-old girl does have a growing list of enemies is probably normal. That she writes a paper about being in combat with her father, imagining the bloody ways in which the two will take down the enemies of their country, is not.
Griffiths mostly pulls off a difficult balancing act in presenting Sadie as both a regular teenager, with common worries and curiosities and schemes, and someone who might be capable of something much worse than what one should expect from a regular teenager. She has crossed a few lines, even by the time we first meet her (the fake bomb threat being chief among them), and there's considerable tension in wondering what other lines she may be willing to cross, in the futile hope of keeping her broken family together.
That tension, though, isn't simply about what Sadie has done, is doing, and might possibly do. It's founded on something more fundamental: that Sadie is, deep down, a good and intelligent kid, with a lot of potential in front of her. Schloss' performance never loses sight of that fact, even as her character tries to sabotage Rae's assorted dates with Cyrus (Their relationship, by the way, is involving enough and bittersweet, as Rae tries to help her new beau with a painkiller addiction), brings an unloaded gun to school to scare Francis' bully, and tries to frame Cyrus for something that would make him a social pariah. Her performance keeps the character grounded and recognizable, even as it becomes much more difficult to excuse her actions as just a kid being a kid.
All of it does lead to something, and that moment might be the most notable and significant misstep in Griffiths otherwise solid character study. We suspect something like it is coming, given everything we know about Sadie's one-track determination. It's not so much the act itself that seems out of place, then. It's how Sadie deals with the aftermath. The film doesn't quite confront the gravity of the situation, but at least, the film's ambiguous ending leaves open the distinct possibility that these characters will.
Copyright © 2018 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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