'Share': Film Review | Sundance 2019

Josh Johnson/Courtesy of Sundance Institute
A #MeToo-era tale that never preaches.

Pippa Bianco's debut film focuses on a teenage girl who discovers that cellphone videos of her sexual assault have been circulating.

Six years ago, when two high-school football players in Steubenville, Ohio, raped a 16-year-old girl and texted video of the assault to their friends, the case was among the first of its kind to go viral on social media and subsequently spark national outrage and eventual prosecution. The film Share, from first-time writer-director Pippa Bianco, tells a similar story, only her movie — acutely aware of the #MeToo climate in which it emerges — is told from the victim’s perspective.

Based on Bianco's 2015 short of the same name, Share is an immersive teen drama about Mandy (played by British newcomer Rhianne Barreto), a high schooler who wakes up face down in her front yard after a night of partying with friends that she doesn’t remember. The next day, she receives multiple texts of a video of her being assaulted while blackout drunk; it is unclear exactly who the perpetrators are. Her life is upended, she becomes a pariah at school and we spend the rest of the pic trying to figure out exactly what happened.

Aided by down-to-earth portrayals and a compelling cinematographic throughline that echoes the both ordinary and complex nature of this kind of violence, Share blurs genre lines between coming-of-age drama and thriller. It’s psycho-drama lite, grounded in a quietly intense portrait of how a girl, her family and a small town grapple with the ugliness of sexual violence.

Bianco and her cinematographer Ava Berkofsky (HBO’s Insecure) intentionally pepper the film with visuals that are hard to make out at first, mirroring the state of Mandy’s memory of her trauma. Moments and images of confusion and suspended time are intricately woven throughout the movie: a sponge slowly moving through dishwater, intermittent flashes of a street lamp in a car at night, extreme close-ups under blue and gray light. We’re meant to linger in the messiness of Mandy’s experience as she discovers more about that night and attempts to heal.

One of the most impactful moments in the film is when Mandy asks her mother Kerri (wisely played by Poorna Jagannathan in a standout performance) if she and her father, Mickey (JC MacKenzie), think she is to blame for the assault. Her mother quickly refutes that shaming notion, and you can’t help but wish that every real-life Mandy would have someone like this in her corner. 

Just as important, Kerri explains how clueless men can be when it comes to the prevalence of assault. She tells Mandy that even for her own (white, straight) husband, Mandy’s sexual assault is utterly surprising and likely his first personal connection to a survivor, while Kerri has long known that sexual assault happens “every minute of every day.”

Statistics show that people who commit rape are rarely strangers in the dark, but instead friends and lovers that victims interact with day-to-day, and when it comes to the nuances of rape and survivorship, the film is well-researched and clearly informed by the experiences of actual survivors. The teenage boys in Share mostly don’t understand what constitutes sexual assault, but the film neither lets them off the hook nor pathologizes them. Instead, we’re meant to stay with Mandy and how she navigates having to see her alleged perpetrators — once friends she trusted who’ve become something much more fraught overnight — in class and around town.

But in showing Mandy’s vulnerability, Bianco doesn’t do so at the expense of her lead’s agency. In a ride with her father in his huge 4x4 truck, she admits to him that no one made her drink that night and that she enjoys going to parties, getting drunk and hooking up — you know, being a typical teenager. Although it’s clearly hard for him to hear this from his teenage daughter, in his fatherly way he still makes sure she knows that just because she was drunk doesn’t mean anyone has the right to assault her.

That the compassionate, informed performances that both of the actors playing Mandy’s parents deliver never feel corny or unearned is impressive in a film that could have easily veered into after-school-special territory. The dialogue feels effortless, and the seamless ensemble ensures there’s rarely a moment when you’re taken out of the story. On the other hand, the score feels largely out-of-sync with the film’s overall muted tone, attempting to amp up the thriller-esque moments.

If the storytelling in Share flounders anywhere, it is in the final scene. Key information about what happened to Mandy the night she was assaulted comes to light, and she makes a choice that, unlike the rest of the movie, feels a bit too quick and easy; the filmmakers might have given a bit more insight into why she made the choice that she did. She is in some ways more of a mystery to us at the end than she was at the beginning.

Still, overall, Share is a mature and insightful feature debut that shows how trauma and light can co-exist in the life of a victim turned survivor. One can only imagine that if the Jane Doe in the Steubenville case had had the chance to see a movie like this, it would have helped her feel less isolated and the burden of what happened to her a bit lighter.

Production companies: A24, Loveless
Distributor: A24
Cast: Rhianne Barreto, Charlie Plummer, Poorna Jagannathan, JC MacKenzie, Nicholas Galitzine, Danny Mastrogiorgio, Lovie Simone
Writer-director: Pippa Bianco
Producers: Carly Hugo, Matt Parker Tyler Byrne
Co-producer: Matt Code
Director of photography: Ava Berkofsky
Production designer: Kelly McGehee
Editor: Shelby Siegel
Music supervisors: Andreas Brauming Arcos, Matthew Hearon-Smith
Casting: Avy Kaufman
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (U.S. Dramatic Competition)

87 minutes