Review: ‘Speak’

Tortured adolescence is one life phase that's become too often the <I>plat du jour</I> of Amerindie cinema. The high water mark recently set by Catherine Hardwicke's "Thirteen" only makes debuting feature helmer/co-scenarist Jessica Sharzer's "Speak" seem all the more pedestrian. Tale of a high school girl who's withdrawn and picked-on after a traumatic incident is earnest, but routine handling saps whatever distinctive qualities existed in acclaimed teen-fiction scribe Laurie Halse Anderson's source novel.

Tortured adolescence is one life phase that’s become too often the plat du jour of Amerindie cinema. The high water mark recently set by Catherine Hardwicke’s “Thirteen” only makes debuting feature helmer/co-scenarist Jessica Sharzer’s “Speak” seem all the more pedestrian. Tale of a high school girl who’s withdrawn and picked-on after a traumatic incident is earnest, but routine handling saps whatever distinctive qualities existed in acclaimed teen-fiction scribe Laurie Halse Anderson’s source novel. Showtime presentation looks to go straight to the net, bypassing theatrical play.

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.

Speak

Production

A Showtime Independent Films presentation of a Fred Berner Films production. Produced by Fred Berner, Matthew Myers. Executive producer, Jerry Offsay. Co-producers, Annie Young Frisbie, Jessica Sharzer. Directed by Jessica Sharzer. Screenplay, Sharzer, Annie Young Frisbie, based on the novel by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Crew

Camera (color, Sony HD cam), Andrij Parekh; editor, Peter C. Frank; original music, Christopher Libertino; production designer, Laura Ballinger. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (American Spectrum), Jan. 22, 2004. Running time: 92 MIN.

With

Kristen Stewart, Michael Angarano, Robert John Burke, Hallee Hirsch, Eric Lively, Leslie Lyles, Elizabeth Perkins, Allison Siko, D.B. Sweeney, Steve Zahn.

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