Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Viewing: Speak

Sally and I viewed a movie a few weeks back that I think is worth writing about and recommending. It's titled Speak, and it is based on a novel of the same name by Laurie Halse Anderson. It is rated PG-13 for thematic elements.

The story revolves around a young girl entering her first year of high school just following her summer vacation. In previous years, Melinda (played to perfection by the amazing Kristen Stuart) had been approachable, outgoing, and sociable. But this year finds her reserved, reclusive, and withdrawn, so detached that she barely speaks—thus the film's title.

Told in quick, blurry flashbacks as the school year progresses, we learn that Melinda suffered a beastly trauma at a party over the summer, a trauma so horrifying that her life now appears to be suspended in time. Many of her friends now shun her because she placed a call to the police from that summer party, and they came and broke it up.

But something happened at that summer, teen gathering, something Melinda cannot bring herself to speak about.

Her teachers are confounded by her detached state, and assume that she is just an excessively troubled teen. Melinda has become so severed from everything around her that she has essentially gone mute. Though the people in her life know that something is amiss, no one seems to care enough to interject themselves into her life to help her. Only her eccentric art teacher (Steve Zahn), is willing to try and draw her out.

Even Melinda's parents (Elizabeth Perkins and DB Sweeney) don't seem to care all that much. They are both so self-absorbed, so involved in their own, private lives, that at times they hardly seem to even notice Melinda exists. Neither one cares enough to make the extra step to get Melinda the help she desperately needs.

The Director (Jesseca Sharzer) is able to offset Melinda's virtual non-talking role on screen with occasional and effective voice-overs by Stewart. Camera work focuses often on Stewart's face and eyes, and the young actress deftly conveys the inner trauma of her character. The images convey the turmoil that she refuses to speak about more powerfully than any words ever could.

As spring breaks and the school year winds down, her art teacher slowly gains Melinda's confidence. But a tramatic showdown is awaiting this young lady, a moment when she must confront and overcome her deepest fears.

Though filmed primarily in a high school setting, this is far from your typical, teen flick. It is clearly a thought-provoking work of art, produced for the adult market. An Independent film, Speak is far superior to most of the junk that Hollywood cranks out.

As the story slowly unfolded on my television screen, I found myself pulling for this young lady, rooting for her and crying out, "Speak, Melinda, speak!"

Rent the DVD and watch it. See if you don't feel compelled to do the same thing.


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