Thursday, January 17, 2008

'Speak' Reviews

Here are the reviews of the moving 'Speak' with nothing but good things about Kristen's performance as Melinda!

Please keep in mind that reviews can contain spoilers, lots of spoilers, and that negative reviews can be interesting to read.
If you have more reviews, feel free to email me. :)


•• eFilmCritic, Chris Parry: Rating 5/5
SCREENED AT THE 2004 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: It was 11:30pm. I'd been denied entry to the party I wanted to go to by some gorilla at the door who didn't care if my name was on a list. I was annoyed - too annoyed to go home and catch some much needed sleep. I needed a distraction. So I went to the most out of the way theater in Park City and caught the 11:30pm screening of a film I'd never heard of - Speak. It would be the greatest time I had at this year's festival.

Melinda Sordino isn't quite the girl she used to be. Once, she was the belle of the ball, a social butterfly who was popular, accepted, and looking a grand future in the face. But then something horrible happened. At a party with her friends, as things were hitting full swing, Melinda ran for a phone and called the police - who then duly busted all the underage drinkers at the party.

Now Melinda is a pariah. Caled 'squealer' by her so-called friends, shunned by all and made to feel about six inches tall, Melinda's name is synonymous with 'scum'. But Melinda doesn't talk about the indicident. She doesn't tell her parents, she doesn't broach the topic with her friends, and she certainly never explained why she called the cops... why would she? Nobody cares anyway.

And that's Melinda's dilemma. Struck with an incident too horrible to talk about, she loses any chance that she might have had to share her pain. Instead, by caring only about themselves, her friends make the pain worse.

So what was 'the incident'? I ain't telling you, though I'll bet every other reviewer will (*cough*David Poland*cough*). The incident itself isn't revealed until past halfway into the movie, because writer/director Jessica Sharzer doesn't want the incident to be primary focus. She doesn't want you feeling 'poor Melinda' from the outset; she wants you to know what her friends know, and what her family knows, and when the reveal comes, she wants it to hit you like it hits them.

Jessica Sharzer is a smart cookie, and this film reveals that early on, and continually throughout its playing time. She nails high school in ways that avoid 'eras'. This film could be set in the 90's, it could be set in the 80's, it could be set right now, but Sharzer avoids putting a sign on the back of thing and instead pushes you to empathize with the people involved, regardless of your own age.

As Melinda, Kristen Stewart doesn't just shine, she burns. In a role where most of what she says doesn't come in the form of words, the teen star of Panic Room and Cold Creek Manor shows that she's far more than just a 'teen actress', delivering a flawless performance. Of course it helps that the script is magnificent, the director at the top of her game and that the cast around her is actually made up of teenagers, rather than twenty-something actors dressed down to look like high school kids.

There are so many films made for teenagers that dumb down to a level below what teenagers are truly capable of, that when a smart, well-made film rolls along the first instinct is to classify it as Ashton Kutcher fodder. But Speak is so far above that level as to almost require its very own pigeonhole.

Some may well compare it to such teen melodrama as My So-Called Life, and it certainly has echoes of that kind of production around it, but this is far and away not a 'teen movie'. Speaking as one of an audience full of grown adults, many of whom haven't seen the inside of a high school for decades, it crosses all demographics, all races, all genders and delivers its commentary on life as a teenager in a way that John Hughes at the peak of his powers could not have matched.

If it sounds like I'm rattling on endlessly about this film, that's because it deserves to be rattled on about endlessly. From start to finish, lead to co-stars, director to writers, this is the kind of film experience that reminds you that it doesn't matter how many stars are around, or how much money is spent on the film - a truly memorable indie film kicks the hell out of anything a studio can put together.

•• The Viewspaper, Rashmi Rajshekhar: This movie is a small budget movie with a very big heart. Not an average teen movie, it handles the sensitive issue of rape in a very moving manner. It is not a story about a revolution; the heroine is not a fighter who champions the cause of battered women. Rather, it is a very true interpretation of what really happens to young people who are faced with a terrible situation, early in their lives. Victims of rape are often too scared and ashamed to talk to anyone about what really happened. As a result, all this pain gets trapped up inside and leads to depression. In Melinda’s case, depression led to her becoming mute. Narrated in first person, it is a story told by Melinda herself, who doesn’t say much but thinks a lot. Her blunt remarks and sarcastic comments are rife with dark humour. Even though, throughout the movie, silence speaks for itself, the screenplay is taut and the dialogue is crisp. The scene involving Mr. Neck’s “debate” class is especially engaging. It is an insight on how the education system still employs people with prejudices and how this does no good to growing minds. The film sheds light on the adolescent need to be accepted by their peers. This compulsive need leads people to become manipulative and gamble away years of friendship. This movie does a very good job in bringing forward important issues to the audience. At the same time, it is not preachy and pretentious.

Kristen Stewart, of course, is the reason why this movie is so powerful. Being only 14 when she was cast for this role, Kristen plays Melinda with stunning maturity. Her blank face and her soulless eyes reflect the pain she’s going through with gut wrenching accuracy. She does a wonderful job, using very few words to communicate, leaving it to her eyes and body language. Your heart leaps out to her every time she tries to open her mouth but closes it without saying anything. Kristen Stewart carries this movie on her shoulders and pulls it off with panache. Also worth a mention is Steve Zahn’s performance as the inspiring teacher Mr. Freeman. He successfully embodies the tortured artist who hates the school policies but recognizes and encourages talent in the youngsters. Steve Zahn carries off his role brilliantly, becoming the teacher we all wish we had. But his best moment is undoubtedly the scene when his eyes fill up with tears of wonder and admiration upon seeing Melinda’s drawings in the janitor’s closet. The rest of the cast provided excellent support: including Michael Angarano as the Dave Petrakis, Melinda’s smart and outspoken lab partner who later becomes her friend and Allison Siko as Heather, the quintessential “wannabe”, a self absorbed social climber.

Kudos to the director Jessica Sharzer who has done a stellar job in bringing out the best in the young actors and actresses. The direction along with the camera work is simply amazing. The director wonderfully conveys Melinda’s thoughts to the audience by the subtle use of metaphors, props and lighting. The very first scene when Melinda draws stitches across her mouth, the slow walk back home alone after the party and the hospital scene show amazing acting, direction and camera work. The scene where Melinda smells an apple and reminisces about her childhood is also very touching: a symbol of how a girl lost her innocence at an early age and would give anything to go back to the carefree happy days of childhood. Another amazing scene is the one when the janitor closes the shutter when Melinda’s thinking about the suffragettes, symbolically showing how she feels trapped. The close ups of Stewart’s face and eyes, reflecting the fear and the sense of defeat moves the audience. A special mention must also be given to the make up team in creating Melinda’s look: bleak with shadows around the eyes and chapped lips. The background score is very good, especially in the flashback scenes and towards the end where the rousing music tugs at your heart strings. The only flaw is the slight lull around the middle of the movie where it tends to meander a tiny bit.

Speak is a well produced and well acted, powerful and inspiring movie. A movie recommended for both parents and teenagers, it doesn’t tell you how you should live your life. It is merely the story of a girl, a child actually, who needs someone to get her through the worst time of her life but doesn’t know how to call for help. It is a story of finding one’s self and facing one’s fears as running away or denial is never the answer. It is a movie that, along with occasional moments of satire, inspires young people to stop bottling up their emotions: to face reality and to SPEAK OUT!

•• The Teen Spirit, David Bjerre: Rating 8/10
A good film should be like a traffic accident. Unpleasant, yet impossible to look away from. "Speak" is one such film. It's heartbreaking to watch this girl suffer one humiliation after another. Every step is a struggle, and every new encounter brings the possibility of a change, only to be shot down all too quickly. But there's hope. There's something brewing inside her. She's not over yet, she still has a fighting chance. Assuming the film gets to you, it'll be this part that does the trick.

"Speak" takes place in the world of the high school, so naturally all the high school clichés are in place, but somehow they don't feel like clichés here. They feel like the ugly brutal truth. Walking into class late has never been more uncomfortable, the cafeteria has never been more alienating, and the school bus never more uninviting. The film perfectly captures those moments that most people will recognise in one form or another. The uncertainty of the first days after summer, or the sizzle in your stomach as you come face to face with the one person you wish you could sit next to in all classes.

Kristen Stewart is a revelation in the lead role. The whole film rests on her shoulders, because she's in every single scene, and that's a lot of responsibility. Stewart certainly looks the part, with her skinny almost prepubescent body, sunken eyes and downward stare, she's the physical manifestation of Melinda's mental state. But it's more than that. The character of Melinda could easily have been a disaster. She has few lines and she rarely takes the initiative in anything. Usually she just sulks and looks depressed.

Often when this kind of character is portrayed on film, they come up short, because the actor tries to compensate for the lack of emotions, by overacting the few emotions the character does have. Stewart resists the urge to do that. Just because Melinda is not doing anything, doesn't mean she not doing anything, if you get my meaning.

Stewart uses the subtle nuances of her characters - the way she looks at people, the way she walks and talks - to tell us the things she can't say out loud. It's subtle sometimes, but this is film, and film sees everything. Watch Stewart's face closely in the scene where the extremely racist teacher Mr. Neck is suddenly challenged by one of the other students. You'll know every single thought that goes through Melinda, just from watching Stewart's expressions. She never says anything, she never "acts". All she does is react. And she does it with absolute conviction.

Stewart previously starred in "Panic Room", where she played Jodie Foster's daughter, and had no problems keeping up with the seasoned actress. She's one to look out for in the future.

"Speak" is one of those small films that might easily slip beneath the radar. It's not backed by any major marketing campaign, most people will never be able to see it in the cinemas, and TV won't show it because it's too obscure.

However, it's my personal experience that these days the truly rewarding film experiences are not found among the high profile cinema releases, or the multiple award winners. The films that really surprise me, or give me something honest and heartfelt, are the small films that never make it that far. They might show up on a filmfestival or two (like "Speak"), or they might just suddenly pop up on DVD, and after that they're gone. If you want them you've got to work for it, you've got to make an effort. Otherwise you'll never know what you missed. And once you've discovered one of those little gems, tell somebody else about them. Spread the word. Like Melinda ponders in "Speak": "Would anybody notice, if I just stopped talking?" No, probably not. Which is all the more reason to speak up.

•• Movie-Gurus, Joe Rickey: Rating 4/5
aving received praise at the Sundance Film Festival and winning the Woodstock Film Festival in 2004 as Best Narrative Feature, I thought I’d check out 'Speak,' featuring a 14 year old Kristen Steward who delivers an astounding performance as the traumatized teenager Melinda, on the verge of breaking.

In the lead role, Stewart gives a powerful performance in what had to be a tricky role for the young actor most known for her appearances in 'Panic Room' and 'Zathura.' Through various facial expressions and some of the most expressive eyes in Hollywood, she is able to convey the unending pain Melinda has endured and is still enduring. It is her performance that leads the viewer through what is a long process of recovery and rehabilitation.

The "mute" viewer accompanies her on every step of this painful and slow catharsis, always hoping that she will find the courage to speak. This is not your every day popcorn movie, and as dramas go, it has great emotional depth. Will she decide to speak?

•• TeenInk, Samiam: I felt that Kristen Stewart as Melinda, did an outstanding job and impressed me in many ways. Being only 13 at the time, Stewart had to take on a big role by being very mature compared to some of her other films around that age. To get through big things that you cannot get passed by yourself such as being raped like Melinda, you need people to help you. David Petrakis, Melinda’s lab partner, is played by Michael Angarano. He helps Melinda realize that she needs to speak up if she wants any help in her life. Mr. Freeman is played by Steve Zahn and helps Melinda by showing her ways to speak about her emotions through art. Hallee Hirsh plays Melinda’s ex-best friend Rachel. Even though Rachel doesn’t talk to Melinda anymore for calling the cops at the party, she eventually helps Melinda because she knows she deserves it. IT aka Andy Evan is played by Eric Lively and he takes advantage of Melinda and rapes her. Through Melinda’s freshman year in high schools spends her time afraid of Andy, not knowing if he will do something to her again. Allison Siko as Heather was the only girl that would even talk to Melinda on the first day of school but eventually ditches her to go hang out with other girls who don’t even want Heather around. All these people show Melinda a certain way to get through her fears and to stand up for herself.

Even though the plot line is always the same with novels that are turned into movies there are always some things that are the same and some hat are different. For example, one constant in both the book and the movie was that she receives the tree as her art assignment for the year. This is one thing that I was happy about because the tree is something that symbolizes Melinda by showing how something grows over time. By Melinda still receiving the tree she is able to put her emotions into the tree to make it her own and unique. One big difference that I was not very happy about was that when Melinda finally does decide to speak up she decides to tell her mom about being raped over the summer. This makes me upset because her mom has been nothing but unaware of her daughters feelings. On the other hand, Mr. Freeman always had supported Melinda and was there for her. Another difference in the movie was that in the bathroom she never went to make a list of “what boys to stay away from” in the stall. I was also a little disappointed about this because in the novel she went back into the bathroom she saw everyone’s hateful comments about Andy and she stated that it made her feel like she could fly. I feel that if this certain type of thing made Melinda feel this good it deserves to be in the film as well.

I know that it may seem that I disliked the film, but that is far from what I felt. I enjoyed watching the film very much and did not want to leave class after the bell rang. All I wanted to do was finish the movie. The bildungsroman of Melinda is clearly shown throughout the film; I especially noticed through the music. At one point in the beginning when she is sitting in her room and on the bus sad music was playing but as the days grew warmer her emotions grew happier and people could see that she was getting through her painful past.

•• Splash, Daniel Lehman: 'Speak' makes its story heard.

It's rare to find a film that accurately captures the uncertainty and alienation of the first weeks of high school, the desire for communication and companionship or the extraordinary difficulty of speaking up when everyone else is against you. For a film to accomplish any one of these things without devolving into melodrama or after-school special self parody is an unusual event, yet Jessica Sharzer's "Speak" manages to weave all three together into a poignant and inspiring narrative. Based on Laurie Halsh Anderson's award-winning young adult novel, "Speak" is the story of a smart and loving high school girl who has become silent and withdrawn in the wake a traumatic incident, struggling to face the past so she can go on with her future.

In her feature debut, Ms. Sharzer has crafted a brilliant adaptation of novel that some may have deemed impossible to put down on celluloid. Working with a protagonist who's silent throughout much of the film, Ms. Sharzer keeps the film moving by incorporating flashbacks of the fateful night, letting us gradually realize what Melinda has gone through as the incident unfolds piece by piece. Woven seamlessly into the narrative, the flashbacks are a glimpse of Melinda's memories, assailing us with the images that haunt her. As each new piece of the night's puzzle is revealed, Melinda's lapses into silence speak volumes, her distant gaze telling of things that she cannot bring herself to put into words.

Many adult actors can only dream of being able to convey such depth of character without saying a word, but Ms. Stewart completely inhabits Melinda with a quiet ease. Through subtle shifts in expression or body language, she gives voice to Melinda with rarely a sound. From the charming, vivacious girl at the party to the shell Melinda had become to her eventual re-emergence, Ms. Stewart embodies each facet of her character with equal aplomb, quietly turning in a star-making performance. Mr. Zahn also seems to have found his niche, putting a serious face on his usual antics and toning them down just enough to convey responsibility without losing the good natured rebelliousness that makes him endearing.

The humanity of its characters is one of the reasons "Speak" works so well. Fleshed out by solid performances and intuitive writing, they feel like regular people, facing many of the same insecurities and adolescent torments we all went through. We can genuinely connect with these characters, making their struggles even more affecting. The film enables us to understand the trauma of Melinda's experience and her desire to put it behind her - her wish to forget. But to forget is to back down, to open the door for history to repeat itself - as her former friend's endangerment makes painfully clear - and sometimes one has to take a stand. "Speak" is about finding that voice inside us - breaking the silence that too often binds us and conquering our fear.

•• Variety, Dennis Harvey: Midwestern 15-year-old Melinda (Kristen Stewart) enters her freshman year a virtual pariah — even longtime pals are hostile after she commits the unpardonable sin of calling the cops during a summer keg party. What no one knows is she panicked because she’d just been raped by an older boy. Making matters worse, same boy is now dating her ex-best friend. Melinda grows depressed and uncommunicative, mystifying her self-absorbed parents (D.W. Sweeney, Elizabeth Perkins), though a teacher (Steve Zahn) offers some support. Eventual coming-to-terms (plus the culprit’s public humiliation) would’ve been much more potent with less caricatured adult characters and more nuanced direction. Production values are OK.

+ The Baltimore Sun review here