By Janine Gericke.
Director Megan Griffiths has made a captivating film about how one parent’s absence can have immense complications on the family. While her military father is serving multiple tours overseas, Sadie (a bold performance by Sophia Mitri Schloss) takes it upon herself to make sure he still has a place at home whenever he returns to the trailer park where her and mother live. Though she still receives letters from her father, with promises of returning home soon, her mother Rae (the wonderful Melanie Lynskey) hasn’t heard from him in years and starts to wonder why she’s even waiting around for someone who clearly doesn’t want to return. Even Rae’s best friend Carla (Danielle Brooks) tells her to move on with her life. Unlike everyone else, Sadie refuses to believe that her father won’t come home at some point. The family seems to be going through the motions until former pilot Cyrus (John Gallagher Jr.) moves into Shady Plains and catches the attention of Rae.
Sadie is a very independent 13 year old. She is also incredibly protective of those she cares most about. Her best friend Francis (Keith L. Williams) is being bullied at school, so she takes it upon herself to protect him, with some frightening results. Her school counselor Bradley (Tony Hale) takes a shine to her mother Rae, but Sadie resists, calling him out on his intentions when he stops by their trailer one day before her mother comes home. Sadie is brutally honest with everyone around her, but she has blinders on when it comes to her father.
In Griffith’s own notes about the film, she mentions that stories about war tend to focus on the male perspective, so it’s interesting to see how Sadie reacts to what is happening around her and how she, in a way, becomes a soldier. Her room is covered in photos of her father, and there are toy soldiers scattered about. She likes violent video games and writes brutal and shocking essays for school assignments. In a letter, she tells her father that she wishes she was overseas with him, that it just seems more exciting. Her behavior becomes increasingly more problematic and worrisome and the worst part is that she doesn’t seem to realize how alarming her actions are.
The real challenge that Sadie has to face is when Cyrus enters the picture. When she first meets him, she seems intrigued by him, but once he starts seeing her mother, her opinion changes. She begins to treat Cyrus like he is her enemy and she must do everything she can to prevent him from infiltrating her family. But Sadie often time goes too far to show her loyalty. It’s a loyalty that we also see in her mother. Rae is torn between going with her heart (starting a relationship with another man) and waiting around for her husband. When she realizes that Cyrus has a drug problem, the nurturer in her wants to help him.
Sadie is a well written and well thought out film. This cast is phenomenal and you really do feel for these characters. The film’s final moments are truly upsetting, and you just hope that things will change for the better for this family. It is at times a very difficult film to watch, but leaves a lasting impression.
Janine Gericke is a Film International ‘In the Field’ writer.