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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 11.22%
Average: 4.08%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 3.06%

1 review, 92 user ratings

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by Chris Parry

"The best film I saw at Sundance - by a long way."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2004 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: It was 11:30pm. I'd been denied entry to the party I wanted to go to by some gorilla at the door who didn't care if my name was on a list. I was annoyed - too annoyed to go home and catch some much needed sleep. I needed a distraction. So I went to the most out of the way theater in Park City and caught the 11:30pm screening of a film I'd never heard of - Speak. It would be the greatest time I had at this year's festival.

Melinda Sordino isn't quite the girl she used to be. Once, she was the belle of the ball, a social butterfly who was popular, accepted, and looking a grand future in the face. But then something horrible happened. At a party with her friends, as things were hitting full swing, Melinda ran for a phone and called the police - who then duly busted all the underage drinkers at the party.

Now Melinda is a pariah. Caled 'squealer' by her so-called friends, shunned by all and made to feel about six inches tall, Melinda's name is synonymous with 'scum'. But Melinda doesn't talk about the indicident. She doesn't tell her parents, she doesn't broach the topic with her friends, and she certainly never explained why she called the cops... why would she? Nobody cares anyway.

And that's Melinda's dilemma. Struck with an incident too horrible to talk about, she loses any chance that she might have had to share her pain. Instead, by caring only about themselves, her friends make the pain worse.

So what was 'the incident'? I ain't telling you, though I'll bet every other reviewer will (*cough*David Poland*cough*). The incident itself isn't revealed until past halfway into the movie, because writer/director Jessica Sharzer doesn't want the incident to be primary focus. She doesn't want you feeling 'poor Melinda' from the outset; she wants you to know what her friends know, and what her family knows, and when the reveal comes, she wants it to hit you like it hits them.

Jessica Sharzer is a smart cookie, and this film reveals that early on, and continually throughout its playing time. She nails high school in ways that avoid 'eras'. This film could be set in the 90's, it could be set in the 80's, it could be set right now, but Sharzer avoids putting a sign on the back of thing and instead pushes you to empathize with the people involved, regardless of your own age.

As Melinda, Kristen Stewart doesn't just shine, she burns. In a role where most of what she says doesn't come in the form of words, the teen star of Panic Room and Cold Creek Manor shows that she's far more than just a 'teen actress', delivering a flawless performance. Of course it helps that the script is magnificent, the director at the top of her game and that the cast around her is actually made up of teenagers, rather than twenty-something actors dressed down to look like high school kids.

Elizabeth Perkins, as Melinda's mom, joins in to deliver a similarly compelling performance, which is all the more extraordinary when you learn she shot all of her scenes in three days. You've gotta love indie production schedules, eh?

But the real cap on this fabulous show is none other than Steve Zahn. At a time when Zahn is cashing in with big budget crap on a regular basis, it's great to see him not only appear in something small and meaningful, but also in a way that gives the piece true humor and heart. Zahn, as Melinda's art teacher, delivers the funniest lines in the film, but never as the 'goofball' we've come to associate him with of late. Zahn's ability to portray emotions and drama bursts to the fore in Speak, and it's no overplaying of the actor's impact to tell you that grown men wept during this film.

And I'm not talking about a little tear here and there, I'm talking about full-on, loud tear extraction.

There are so many films made for teenagers that dumb down to a level below what teenagers are truly capable of, that when a smart, well-made film rolls along the first instinct is to classify it as Ashton Kutcher fodder. But Speak is so far above that level as to almost require its very own pigeonhole.

Some may well compare it to such teen melodrama as My So-Called Life, and it certainly has echoes of that kind of production around it, but this is far and away not a 'teen movie'. Speaking as one of an audience full of grown adults, many of whom haven't seen the inside of a high school for decades, it crosses all demographics, all races, all genders and delivers its commentary on life as a teenager in a way that John Hughes at the peak of his powers could not have matched.

If it sounds like I'm rattling on endlessly about this film, that's because it deserves to be rattled on about endlessly. From start to finish, lead to co-stars, director to writers, this is the kind of film experience that reminds you that it doesn't matter how many stars are around, or how much money is spent on the film - a truly memorable indie film kicks the hell out of anything a studio can put together.

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originally posted: 01/28/04 09:44:39
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/17/17 carine kristen stewart was amazing in the portrayal of her character. Go watch it! 5 stars
11/07/16 diana Excellent indie movie about a difficult subject which shows an amazing Kristen Stewart. 5 stars
6/18/14 Arhiem Great Movie,,, I used this movie as my final assignment... 5 stars
2/28/14 April I loved this movie. Especially the 'art' aspect. Kristen was wonderful! 5 stars
9/10/13 susi Excellent! I could watch the movie over and over again! Great performance by Kristen S. 5 stars
7/29/13 Miranda one of the best movies i have ever seen 5 stars
5/16/13 Baylee Nelson Read the book and saw the movie. Kind of depressing. Could have been better. 3 stars
3/23/13 thorpatrick there do exist good kristen stewart performances. and this is one of them. 4 stars
1/13/13 Frank P Best movie in a long time. 5 stars
12/23/11 nightowl loved Melinda and her humor 4 stars
10/14/11 JR Powerfully delivered by an incredible actress. Kristen Stewart reallly is phenomenal 5 stars
5/25/11 maria Good movie 5 stars
5/06/11 Eoin From start to finish a masterpiece, easily my favourite film 5 stars
3/09/11 chris it was okay kristen always looks depressed so it worked out fine 3 stars
12/29/10 sush kristen can act, her eyes did all the talking, and remarkably so. good movie. 4 stars
12/10/10 billy bob i crapped my pants 1 stars
9/06/10 Vangie Kristen's acting was great and also the supporting cast. I cried when I watched this film. 5 stars
5/12/10 tanya i love this movie, i've seen it twice and it never gets old 4 stars
4/19/10 DaveCritic Kristen is my new actress crush FANTASTIC in this film! 5 stars
3/28/10 Angie Wow!!! Kristen Stewart didn't have to say a word for us to understand what she was feeling 5 stars
3/25/10 Jaclyn Incredible story, incredible performance by Stewart and all of the supporting cast. 5 stars
1/19/10 Lia Genius film, Kristen did a perfect Melinda ! 5 stars
1/03/10 Vagisha briliantly made film.and kristen as melinda is truly great! 5 stars
1/02/10 silver this is certainly a life changing story and a movie that you will never be tired to watch. 5 stars
12/20/09 Scarlet. Really, really good movie. The acting is excellent. 5 stars
12/12/09 alhanoof good movie 5 stars
11/25/09 Imogen Kristen is great in this film. i think the ending was great 5 stars
10/26/09 Jessica A I loved this movie. It is that kind of movie that you can watch more then just once. 5 stars
6/24/09 Miriam I love this movie . i Love KS performance shes a great actress. I cried watchin it xx 5 stars
5/22/09 Keven good movie..even better book. the movie shows u what happened 2 early, but i recommend it 4 stars
4/29/09 Jon Brock I love the movie. 5 stars
3/20/09 zeynep kstew is amazing, movie is amazing... 5 stars
3/19/09 kelsey my favorite k-stew movie of alltime. cast, actors & movie are brilliant. 5 stars
3/18/09 Ally Great film! Proof that Kristen Stewart is really good at what she does! 5 stars
2/13/09 paul excelent 4 stars
1/19/09 Margaret O'Brien Great movie. The friends nailed the banality of HS conversation. 5 stars
1/13/09 Anonymous. touching, one of kirsten stewart's best roles. :] 4 stars
10/22/08 eryca an amazing novel. movie was a little dramatic 3 stars
10/01/08 michael m. a very good book ot read. 5 stars
5/22/08 jay the book is amazing...the movie and the book follow each other the book first 5 stars
5/16/08 Emily great book 5 stars
4/26/08 em One of the most powerful movies I've seen in a long time. Amazing acting, perfect script. 5 stars
4/15/08 tierinisha it made me want to go cut my wrist 1 stars
3/01/08 jennifer b. i loved this Film! it really got down deep in me. it did not make teens look shallow! 5 stars
10/23/07 Moefoe A truly brilliant performance from a fourteen year old Kristen Stewart... 5 stars
8/13/07 abbie one of my all time favorite films. kirsten stewart was phenomal.everything was superb. 5 stars
6/07/07 talisa i always loved this knds of movies so in my opinon i think it ws estupended so amazing 5 stars
6/02/07 Michael someone told me its on tv all the time but i cant find it, help!? 5 stars
6/01/07 emily i read the book in school and then watched the movie both are amazing i 5 stars
5/08/07 mark long its total waste of time 1 stars
4/13/07 Madeline beautiful and mesmerizing....I cried my eyes out 5 stars
1/25/07 michelle nicole the movie was really good but the book was better because it was more detailed 5 stars
1/01/07 Maggie A truly great movie. 5 stars
12/14/06 Alisha This was an awesome movie, but the book was better. 5 stars
10/30/06 cadmiumgold Amazing, blew me away Kristen Stewart was outstanding best teen actress around 5 stars
10/25/06 Mitchell S Simply a GREAT film! It blew me away! 5 stars
10/09/06 Heather Vincent an amazing film 5 stars
8/26/06 Elizabeth S Excellent, beautifully acted. 4 stars
8/21/06 A Nonymous Simply a great film 5 stars
6/03/06 Nick Awesome movie... Kristen Stewart did an excellent job. 5 stars
4/11/06 petruska fernandez i love the movie because of how realistic it is. Kirsten stewart was awesome!! 5 stars
12/27/05 prash123 Kristen Stewart was outstanding...u cant find better actresses these days 5 stars
12/18/05 aimless Excellent Adaptation-Stewart is a rising star 5 stars
12/05/05 Gene Carmean outstanding 4 stars
12/01/05 Donald Ketcham Very moving, "awesome" is the word, 5 stars
11/04/05 Amara Amazing! I loved the book and I love the movie. The acting was fantastic! 5 stars
9/08/05 Mary Swayze This should be shown in every Jr. High and High school in the country 5 stars
8/24/05 brad Kristen Stewart is fantastic 5 stars
8/18/05 M!ss actully , sometimes i want to enter the rv to help her ,This is a unbeliveable , 5 stars
8/18/05 Scourge Captivating....wish I coulda' been there for Melinda... 5 stars
8/10/05 tigerrolph its fabulous! a must see for every adult who think they know their children inside out! 5 stars
8/02/05 Eileen It's the best teen movie I have ever seen; haunting, provocative, and true to life. 5 stars
7/21/05 Jessie Nusser i loved the movie. i wish it would come to DVD! 5 stars
7/17/05 Kerry L Wonderful story, Hollywood has just lost the -plot-... 5 stars
4/29/05 Kieran D It was a truely interesting and captivating movie. I could not take my eyes off the screen 5 stars
2/03/05 gloria i loved this movie! 5 stars
12/13/04 Caroline Very powerful & moving, it deserves all the credit it is receiving!! 5 stars
11/24/04 Mr Spirit Awesome movie. As a secondary teacher, I'm looking into getting a copy to show the kids 5 stars
11/22/04 Clifford Great Film, great acting by Kristen Stewart. Great film 5 stars
11/02/04 mariah kristen stewart is amazing in this film 5 stars
6/04/04 Hilarium Strong debut, good film but a little infuriating at times.. 4 stars
5/25/04 Elisabeth Balcony This movies was very good to me. It was awesome 5 stars
5/22/04 Eleanor Very impressive/ thought provoking 5 stars
4/28/04 Aaron O. Very true to the book, excellent film. 5 stars
4/03/04 Frankie Zola OK but not great 3 stars
3/02/04 whatnotgirl must see it. 5 stars
2/21/04 joe shmo amazing!!!! 5 stars
2/14/04 Simon Great 5 stars
2/11/04 Deborah Duggin One of best movies at Sundance 5 stars
2/01/04 Crystal Kowalski Kristen Stewart did a great job,also liked the supporting cast, especially the 4 friends. 4 stars
1/30/04 Susan Johnston Great film, great acting, cried my head off. 5 stars
1/28/04 Boombah Baby Fantastic performances, assured direction. 5 stars
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  20-Jan-2004 (PG-13)
  DVD: 27-Sep-2005



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