It's typically fun to watch girls and women kick ass, regardless of the context in which the ass kicking is happening. I went into Sadie thinking that might be what I was in for -- the synopsis refers to her "war tactics" in response to her mother dating a new man while her father stays enlisted in the military.
It's a bit more sinister than that. Thirteen-year-old Sadie, played with passable competence by Sophia Mitri Schloss, doesn't "kick ass" so much as get progressively creepier as she steps up the questionable actions she takes to get her mother's new boyfriend out of the picture. Perhaps "creepy" is too strong a word. If Sadie has anything really going for it, it's the line it straddles between "creepy" and "troubled youth." She's certainly vaguely unsettling, as she grows into apparent sociopathy.
Sadie's mother, Rae, is played by Melany Linskey; Rae's boyfriend Cyrus by John Gallagher Jr.; her neighbor and best friend Carla by Orange Is the New Black's Danielle Brooks. They all do okay as actors in a low-budget, local production by Seattle writer-director Megan Griffiths -- you can barely tell it's set locally, with its semi-dumpy trailer park locations that could be anywhere. In the screenshot photo below, you can see a sticker for Rat City Roller Girls behind Sadie on the wall.
The thing is, very little of what Griffiths gives her characters to say make them seem all that interesting. Sadie herself is the only truly fascinating character, and it's just because she's fucked up, obsessed with her absent father to the point of dreaming up and image of him as an ultra-violent hero. But Rae and Cyrus's courtship is one of the least compelling relationships I have ever seen on film. They have no chemistry, and it's a mystery what they see in each other as well as why we should be interested. Their interest in each other can best be described as "it's what's within reach."
Even the scenes with Carla bar tending at the tavern she works at struggle to ring true, "friendly banter" between her and her customers feeling both banal and strained. There finally comes a scene between Sadie and Cyrus that's got some genuine tension, and it's kind of a relief when there's finally some story propulsion.
Sadie does have the makings of a compelling story. It's not dull, exactly. It just struggles to succeed when digging into details. It's a complete story, with characters not quite fleshed out. Linskey in particular gives Rae some nuance and dimension, but that doesn't quite help the dialogue she's saddled with. Veep's Tony Hale has a small-ish supporting part as Sadie's school counselor who pines a little after Rae, and his part is one of the few that works both on paper and in execution.
It's not long into Sadie when you realize it's headed somewhere dark. Griffiths leaves a lot of things unresolved and messy in a way I can respect, which is unusual. It just happens in a fictionalized world that feels too small, in a way incomplete, barely constructed. I'd have cared a lot more about the people Sadie apparently can't help but damage in some way, if they had much in the way of personality to begin with. Sadie is an odd movie in that it's an interesting story that is ultimately about boring people.