It might be the effect of watching a lot of bad films in a row but the truth remains: sometimes there just comes a great movie. Jesssica Sharzer's "Speak" is one of those pictures that gets everything right. Like "Thirteen" or "The virgin suicides", it chooses characters, explores their environment and takes care of covering every aspect of a heartbreaking story. A heartbreaking story told, shot with respect is not the only thing these films have in common. The most important characters are girls, and the writer/directors are women. This can't be a coincidence. However, what changes is the point of view. Where "The virgin suicides" was seen through the eyes of boys and "Thirteen" was a whole new (extreme at times) experience for a high school girl, "Speak" takes a step back. It's a humbler movie; neither entirely poetic nor filled with the emotions its main character is desperate to express.
Melinda (Kristen Stewart) has done something terrible and is starting the new school year without friends. She wants her friends back, but something else happened and it's making very difficult for her to walk calmly around the hallways. There is a reconstruction of events, poetically narrated, which includes images that represent the bliss of adolescence and its biggest fears at the same time. The music, a fantastic score by Christopher Libertino, works perfectly when we witness the past and also Melinda's everyday life. When her mother (Elizabeth Perkins) wakes her up and she's screaming, she says: "Don't worry, the boogeyman is gone". Melinda knows this is not true. She walks around with ghosts and talks only when necessary. We have the privilege of listening to her thoughts, but the movie title is precise about it: Melinda can't speak up.
"Speak" gets everything right because Sharzer keeps it real. It's an important detail in films like these that things don't get out of hand. Disbelief may cause distraction, but here the camera is not flashy, the dialogue is not excessive, the key moments are not over dramatized; the economy of resources in general is astounding and seems intentional. What we know about the multiple characters is from what Melinda thinks of them in particular moments or what she directly says to them in important situations. The rest we have to figure out for ourselves (specially the relationship of Melinda with her parents, also an important detail in movies like this one). The movie never explains or anticipates too much because its story depends on what we find as we watch it. Proof of this fact is the most outspoken character, and art teacher played by Steve Zahn, who has a typical bohemian/philosophic/life lesson intended speech that for any viewer may sound like bullshit. Art plays a big part in "Speak", but it's not due to the art teacher's words
It's simply because of the direct relationship Melinda experiences with art and how it widely affects her; a relationship mainly generated by the art teacher.
Kristen Stewart is amazing. The depressive look on her face she has completely mastered finds its inception in "Speak". High school, lack of satisfaction, quirkiness that is sexy, a world of questions inside a world of unresolved problems and, in the end, some kind of kindness. You could say by now that she's typecast, but if I didn't say it before I dare anyone to find any other actress who can do it better. The close-ups of Stewart here are plenty and I find it hard to write (this means 'try to explain') how two eyes that seem lost in the middle of nowhere can transmit so much. I've already praised Stewart so. I'm a bit tired. Go and watch it for yourselves.
"Speak" is a fabulous experience, though not the happiest. You don't imagine how good it feels when a movie understands that there's nothing more left to show; that the story has been told and the screen needs to go black. I envy the way this film resolves its ending, when nothing else can be said. And don't forget the movie's called "Speak".
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