Sadie is a coming-of-age drama that turns corners before positioning itself in an unconventional, but also unsettling place. Written and directed by Megan Griffiths, the film is a bit manipulative in that asks you to sympathize, feel for, and root for the title character only for the tables to turn later on when you realize you didn’t know her as well as you thought. It follows the difficult lives of blue-collar families, but it doesn’t offer much in the way of formulating a fully fleshed out story and takes a sharp turn later on in the finale that alters the course of the film and doesn’t work.
Sadie (Sophia Mitri Schloss, who puts in a fantastic performance) is a forlorn and bitter 13-year-old. She loves and adores her father, who’s serving in the military overseas, and is desperate to keep him as the central figure in both her and mother’s lives. She’s extremely reluctant to have anyone else get in the way, including her teacher (Tony Hale) and, in some cases, vindictive when anyone crosses a line. Sadie has held onto her childhood dreams for four years and is uninterested in anything else, even though her mother, Rae (Melanie Lynskey) is clear that her dad might not come back. Regardless, Sadie is adamant in her opinion of him as a hero and is quick to make every other man feel small beneath the pedestal she’s put him on. Everything she does is in service of her father and Sadie abhors hearing anything that might put him in a negative light.
Things change when Cyrus (John Gallagher Jr.) moves into the trailer across from them. Rae is convinced Sadie’s dad has moved on from her and she struggles to remain loyal to a husband who is always away, while coming to terms with the fact that their marriage won’t be the same when and if he returns. She begins having an affair with Cyrus, a man who has his own issues with painkillers. Rae attempts to help him and as their relationship evolves and grows, Sadie grows more furious. She decides to take action out of anger, one with damning consequences.
As a young woman coming to terms with the fact that her family isn’t and will never be what it used to be, it’s easy to understand where Sadie is coming from, at least at first. It’s very disturbing the lengths she’s willing to go to keep her life the way she wants it to be. Griffiths succeeds in making Sadie unlikable in several instances and it makes for a more realistic take given her actions and feelings. The idealization of her father is something that comes to a head near the end of the film and even though the dad never makes an appearance, his presence is heavily felt throughout, most often in the way Sadie chooses to punish her mom.
Melanie Lynskey puts in a solid, understated performance, as does Danielle Brooks, despite being heavily underutilized. Lynskey is gentle with Sadie no matter how much pushback and attitude she gets. She tries to make her daughter understand what’s going on without forcing the issue and is there for her even when Sadie pulls away. But this becomes increasingly frustrating because no matter how patient Rae is with her daughter, Sadie remains stubborn and even goes so far as to tell her father a lie about how her mom misses him. It’s hard to watch as Sadie seemingly falls deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole. However, by the time we get to see the alarming things she’s written for a school paper, it’s too late to fully grasp how she got to a place where violence is deemed ok and even necessary for the survival of her family.
Danielle Brooks’ character is nothing but the best friend, and a dishonest one at that. We hear through others how close Carla and Rae are, but we don’t really get to see much of that showcased throughout the film. They’ve known each other for several years, their children are best friends and yet their relationship is filled with sudden and quiet tension over a man. It’s a disservice to Brooks’ talent that she’s relegated to such a role without getting the chance to fill in the gaps just a little bit more. We know she’s had it rough with her boyfriend, who’s unreliable and comes in and out of her life, but this subplot is unnecessary and could’ve been done differently.
Sadie gets pretty dark and doesn’t deal with the fallout of any of the events in the final act. The audience is meant to understand and forgive Sadie by the end of the film because all she’s ever wanted was for her family to be whole again, but her final action isn’t one that garners much sympathy, even toward a 13-year-old. It takes on the heavier aspects of getting older and shedding the idealistic hopes and dreams that you cling to in youth, but it doesn’t do it very well. Sadie’s bubble is burst by the weight of the choices she makes and the finality of coming to terms with the reality of her life, but it doesn’t take the time to round out the story before taking a twisting turn. Sadie is ultimately imbalanced, slow, and is a coming-of-age tale that is deeply flawed. Its attempts to handle Sadie’s problems in an extreme way in the second half of the film is melodramatic and a bit messy. After watching the final ten minutes, you’ll find it hard to shake the feeling of unease.