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Speak
2004 - PG-13 - 89 Mins.
Director: Jessica Sharzer
Producer: Fred Berner
Written By: Laurie Halse Anderson (novel), Jessica Sharzer, Annie Young Frisbie
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Hallee Hirsh, Steve Zahn, Eric Lively, Elizabeth Perkins
Review by: Joe Rickey
   
Having 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.

Over the summer, Melinda was at a party with some friends. At some point, she gets lured away by one of the boys with whom she started to flirt and kiss, and consequently gets raped. The viewer is told about this in blurred flashbacks as they happen to Melinda bit by bit throughout the movie.

Melinda starts to distance herself more and more from the people around her. She has decided not to speak about it and tries to suppress what has happened but to no avail. It just keeps surfacing again and again, either triggered by seeing the person who did this to her at school or by reliving it in her nightmares, torturing her very soul. Her choice not to speak about it only drives her further away from her parents and the world around her. Only through art is she eventually able to express her anger and pain.

Her artistic release is aided by the free-spirited Mr. Freeman (Steve Zahn, in a different role for the normally comedic actor), a man who himself has suffered indeterminable loss in his life. In its handling of their relationship, the film finds its heart and power beyond what is already present within Melinda herself. Despite not speaking to one another, they find artistic and emotional solace just by being in the presence of each other. Freeman does not know exactly what Melinda has gone through but he does not have to. Just by looking at the forlorn, violated look in her eyes is all he needs. He is the first to realize that it is through art that Melinda may be able to find her voice once again.

In the role, Zahn is pitch-perfect every step of the way. He underplays the quirky tendencies of his character, something quite unexpected for those familiar with the bulk of the Minnesota natives' work. He even handles the sometimes fortune cookie nature of his dialogue with suitable aplomb, making it sound much better than it actually would appear on paper.

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?
 
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

 
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