Based on the award winning novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, "Speak" unfolds a story about Melinda (Kristen Stewart), a smart and spirited high school freshman who retreats into self-imposed silence after she is raped one night at a party. Feeling isolated from her classmates and from her preoccupied mother Joyce Sardnino (Elizabeth Perkins), Melinda retreats further in an attempt to escape the torments of high school. It is only through her work in art class with the help of her compassionate art teacher Mr. Freeman (Steve Zahn) that she begins to reach out to others and eventually finds her own voice and inner strength. A feature debut of director/co-writer Jessica Sharzer, "Speak" resonates with stubborn honesty and sardonic humor as we follow Melinda on her journey from traumatized isolation to a brave and final triumphant disclosure.
is an unexpected gem. Adapted from the popular novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and first broadcast in 2004, the film features an excellent lead performance by Kristen Stewart (Panic Room
) as Melinda Sordino, a deeply troubled teen facing her first year of high school and all its attendant perils, including student cliques (here called "clans," such as "the Marthas--very Connecticut, very prep"), hostile teachers (with the exception of Steve Zahn's art instructor), and so forth. Melinda appears to be just another misfit, alienated, shunned, and sullen ("the most depressed person I've ever known," as one classmate puts it), burdened with clueless, hopelessly self-absorbed parents (Elizabeth Perkins, D.D. Sweeney) and her own introverted nature. But there's much more to it than that, and director Jessica Sharzer, who co-wrote the screenplay, deftly balances flashbacks of the traumatic event that turned Melinda into a virtual mute with her pained attempts to deal with its aftermath; the two stories, past and present, unfold together, keeping us involved all the way to the film's unsettling but cathartic conclusion. Powerful, moving, and well-acted (the adult roles occasionally veer toward stereotype, but the kids' performances are consistently good), Speak
is a compelling and admirable piece of work. --Sam Graham