Uploaded by Michele Ellis


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Speak (2004)
directed by Jessica Sharzer
Kristen Stewart as Melinda Sordino
Michael Angarano as David Petrakis
Robert John Burke as Mr. Neck
Hallee Hirsh as Rachel Bruin
Eric Lively as Andy Evans
Elizabeth Perkins as Joyce Sordino
D. B. Sweeney as Jack Sordino
Steve Zahn as Mr. Freeman
Allison Siko as Heather Billings
Leslie Lyles as Hairwoman
Director: Jessica Sharzer
Producers: Fred Berner, Matthew Myers,
Annie Young Frisbie, and Jessica Sharzer
Writer: Jessica Sharzer and Annie Young
Frisbie based on Laurie Halse Anderson’s
Editor: Mark Bennett and Billy Hopkins
Director of Photography: Andrij Parekh
Music: Christopher Libertino
Distribution/Studio Company: Showtime
Networks Inc.
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 92 minutes
Background and Introduction to Speak
Speak is a 2004 American independent drama based on the award-winning, best-selling novel of the
same name. It documents the freshman year of Melinda Sordino, who practically stops talking after a
traumatic event happens to her in the summer leading to her ninth grade year. The film is told through
Melinda’s eyes and is wrought with her sardonic humor and blunt honesty. Faithful to the novel, the film
features a nonlinear plot and seeks to discover the source of and recovery of Melinda’s problems. It was
broadcast on Showtime and Lifetime in 2005 after premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004.
Producer and screenwriter Annie Young Frisbie read the novel and successfully made a bid to get
the rights to a film version. Production took place in Columbus, Ohio because a production partner,
Matthew Myers, was relocating there with his wife. Film production took only 21 days in August 2003.
Anderson herself cameos in the film as the lunch lady who gives Melinda the mashed potatoes.
Despite being a work with mature subject matter, Speak teaches students about several teen issues,
including school cliques, harassment, sex, and parental relationships. By sharing in Melinda’s struggles,
students may find their own voices and learn to cope with trauma and hardships.
Although New York Times reviewer Neil Genzlinger praised the work of Stewart and Steve Zahn, he
concluded that, overall, the cast was populated with “dismaying caricature[s], so much so that it costs the
movie some credibility,” and that the film “comes nowhere near capturing the wise, subtle tone of the
book.” (Poster and screenshots © Showtime Networks Inc., 2004)
Pre-Viewing, During Viewing, and Post-Viewing Notes
Directions: Conscientious film students prepare themselves for a film by writing any notes about the film
that may be important during the pre-viewing process and any notes that the group presentation will make
for our post-viewing discussion of the film. Jot down any lecture or discussion material here. In addition,
this page is used to record your notes while you watch the film. In the left column, describe scenes from the
film that seem intriguing, interesting, or relative to your life. In the right column, write a response to the
scene you described in the left column. You may write what you think the scene means, what the scene
reminds you of, what you don’t understand, how you feel about it, or any other comments.
Main Points/Key Concepts
Comprehension Questions
Directions: Answer the following questions during or after the movie.
1. In the opening pan, what does the set design of Melinda’s room
suggest what her personality is like, yet what is Melinda doing?
Why? How does her make-up indirectly characterize her?
2. What is Melinda’s relationship with her mom like? How is her mom
indirectly characterized? How does the non-diegetic score enhance
the mood? Why does the camera slowly track toward the mirror?
3. What is the setting? What is the effect of the bus’ movement from
right to left? How does this movement suggest how Melinda feels?
4. How is Heather indirectly characterized by her actions, body
posture, costume, and dialogue? How is she a foil to Melinda?
5. How do other students react or treat Melinda, and how are their and
Melinda’s reactions implied cinematically?
6. How is Mr. Neck indirectly characterized by how he treats students,
especially Melinda? How is his power suggested cinematically?
7. Why does Rachel, Melinda’s ex-best friend, want to be called
Rachelle? How does Rachelle treat Melinda? Why?
8. Why does the sight of Rachelle trigger a flashback? What was
Melinda like in the past?
9. What happens to Melinda in the cafeteria? Why do the students call
her a “squealer”? What in the next flashback explains what
happened to her and what she did at this party?
10. How is Mr. Freeman different from Melinda’s other teachers,
especially Hairwoman? What is Melinda’s assigned art project for
the year?
11. How does Melinda’s first day of school go? What does Rachelle say
to everyone on the bus? Why?
12. How does Mr. Neck treat Melinda and open class? How does David
Petrakis challenge Mr. Neck? Why is Dave Melinda’s hero?
13. What does Melinda discover while attempting to hide from Mr.
Neck? What will this location provide her for the year? How does
she later decorate it? How is she like the Maya Angelou poster?
14. Who is the boy who called Melinda “fresh meat”? What is the
subtext of his dialogue? How did he treat Melinda earlier as seen in
the next flashback? Why is a part of this scene in slow motion?
15. Why does Melinda recall this memory as seen in a flashback in
biology class? What can the apple symbolize to her?
16. How does Andy, the boy from summer, treat Melinda today? How
does he exert his dominance or Melinda’s insignificance? How do
the filmmakers imply Melinda’s discomfort?
17. Where does Melinda seek refuge at lunch? What advice does Mr.
Freeman offer her? What happens to Melinda between Halloween
and Thanksgiving as shown in a montage?
18. What happens at Thanksgiving, and how does it inspire Melinda’s
art? How do Mr. Freeman and her ex-friend, Ivy, respond to it?
19. What upsets Melinda at the pep rally? How do the filmmakers
imply Melinda’s increasing anxiety? What flashback comes next?
20. What happened to Melinda at the party, and how do the filmmakers
imply it? Why are close-ups and handheld camera movement
21. How does Mr. Freeman get into trouble at school? What happens to
Melinda during the frog dissection in biology class? Why do the
filmmakers focus on an extreme close-up of the frog’s pinned arm?
What is the frog a metaphor for?
22. What do Melinda’s parents get her for Christmas? What can this gift
symbolize? Why is this moment important given Melinda’s
relationship with her parents? What flashback comes next? Why?
23. Why does Heather end her friendship with Melinda, and what does
Heather tell Melinda? Is Heather “right” to break up with her?
24. What does Melinda write about to earn extra credit in American
history? Why is Mr. Neck’s classroom in the dark and filmed via
long shot? What does Mr. Neck require that Melinda do? Why?
25. How does Melinda seek Dave’s assistance, and how does the mise
en scene underscore the external conflict?
26. How is Melinda similar to the suffragettes? What are the
consequences of her actions? Mr. Neck says Melinda has an attitude.
Does she? Why is everyone filmed separately in the school meeting?
27. What advice does Dave offer Melinda? What is suggested by having
the two of them filmed together via a two-shot?
28. How has Hairwoman changed by Valentine’s Day? What does her
dynamic characterization foreshadow? Why?
29. What does Mr. Freeman create to reflect his internal conflict?
What does Melinda work on to reflect her internal conflict?
30. Why doesn’t Andy refer to Melinda by her name? Does he not
know or remember what he did, or is he pretending not to know
her? Why? Why is Andy out of focus in this shot?
31. How does Andy treat Rachelle and how is he indirectly
characterized by his actions? How does Melinda react? Why?
32. Why does Melinda skip school? What is her internal conflict?
Where does she go? Why? What flashback comes next? Why?
How is this a turning point for her? What does she accept?
33. How does Melinda confront Heather and resolve their external
conflict? Why are they not filmed together via a two-shot?
34. What is shown in montage? How is Melinda becoming a dynamic
character? What is foreshadowed here? How do the filmmakers
portray Melinda’s internal conflict on whether she should help
Rachelle? Why should or shouldn’t Melinda help Rachelle?
35. Why does Melinda return to the scene of the crime? What
flashback comes next? Why? What does Melinda notice about the
tree there?
36. What does Melinda finally reveal to Rachelle? Why does she write
it instead of saying it? What is Rachelle’s reaction before and after
Melinda says that Andy did it? Why?
37. How has Melinda changed as a student by the end of the school
year? What does she do in English class? How is Melinda like the
revolutionaries she’s studying in class? How is Melinda a
metaphor for the seeds for a tree that she plants with her dad?
38. What plans does Melinda make with Dave? What may be
foreshadowed here? Why? What does this two-shot suggest?
39. What are Mr. Freeman’s plans? Why? What does Miranda show
him that is seen in a pan? What is his reaction? Why?
40. How does Andy confront Melinda? Where? Why? What are her
plans? Who intervenes? What is implied will happen to Andy?
41. What do the filmmakers flashback to? Why? What action does
Melinda do that suggests she’s at peace and has found closure?
42. What is the implied resolution? What does Melinda finally tell her
mom? Why does the film end mid-conversation? Why do the
filmmakers have a non-diegetic score drown her dialogue out?
Discussion Questions
Directions: Answer the following questions after you watch the film.
1. Access the film’s Wikipedia page and read the differences between the novel and this film adaptation.
Ultimately, is this film adaptation literal, faithful, or loose to the novel? Why do you believe that the
filmmakers made these changes? Which changes work and which don’t? Why?
2. Is Speak a feminist film? Why or why not? Consider the subject matter, themes, and cast/crew.
3. What does a tree generally symbolize? Why? What does Melinda’s tree project symbolize in this film?
Why? What lesson was Mr. Freeman trying to teach her and other students? Did she learn it? How?
4. Can Speak be considered a teen film even though it’s a drama? Why or why not? Complete the last
page to better understand how Speak is a coming-of-age film.
5. How are authority figures (e.g. parents and teachers) indirectly characterized in Speak? Who assists
Melinda? How? Is Mr. Neck a static or dynamic character? Why?
6. How are the themes of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter or the literature of the revolutionaries,
which Melinda studies in English class, similar to the themes in Speak?
7. Who is responsible for what happened to Melinda over the summer? Why?
8. How do the filmmakers construct the setting for the plot, and how does the setting underscore
Melinda’s character development?
9. What role does the school’s changing mascot have throughout the film? What importance (if any) is
there to this motif? How does Melinda change over the school year? Why?
10. What is a paradox about what Melinda needs to do to recover but what she can’t do?
11. What does it mean to be a friend? Who is a good friend? Who isn’t? Why?
12. What role does art play in the film? How does art help Melinda survive and heal?
13. Why is the film relatively desaturated in its cinematography, and how does this desaturation affect or
enhance the mood?
Genre Study
Speak is a film in the subgenre of coming-of-age, Bildungsroman, or teen drama. According to Wikipedia…
A coming-of-age, Bildungsroman, or teen film is a genre that focuses on the psychological and moral
growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood (coming of age), in which character change is
extremely important. A Bildungsroman relates the growing up or "coming of age" of a sensitive person
who goes in search of answers to life's questions with the expectation that these will result from gaining
experience of the world. The genre evolved from folklore tales of a dunce or youngest son going out in the
world to seek his fortune. Usually in the beginning of the story there is an emotional loss which makes the
protagonist leave on his journey. In a Bildungsroman, the goal is maturity, and the protagonist achieves it
gradually and with difficulty. The genre often features a main conflict between the main character and
society. Typically, the values of society are gradually accepted by the protagonist and he/she is ultimately
accepted into society — the protagonist's mistakes and disappointments are over. In some works, the
protagonist is able to reach out and help others after having achieved maturity.
In film, coming of age is a genre of teen films. Coming-of-age films focus on the psychological and moral
growth or transition of a protagonist from youth to adulthood. Personal growth and change is an important
characteristic of this genre, which relies on dialogue and emotional responses, rather than action. The main
character is typically male, around mid-teen and the story is often told in the form of a flashback. Less
common to novels, themes of developing sexual identity and political opinions are often featured in
coming-of-age films; so, too, is philosophical development. These sexual themes are often presented in a
comic or humorous manner.
Directions: Answer the following questions of genre study based on your viewing of Speak.
1. What are some of the conventions (widely used and accepted devices, practices, or techniques) of
coming-of-age films that Speak exemplifies in style, subject matter, and values?
a. What conventions of style in coming-of-age films does Speak exhibit? Why?
b. What conventions of subject matter in coming-of-age films does Speak exhibit?
c. What conventions of morals/themes/values in coming-of-age films does Speak exhibit? What
lessons does Speak teach or what behaviors does the film approve?
2. How are teenagers portrayed in this coming-of-age film? Where does the protagonist belong in this
setting, and what is his central conflict?
3. How is this film a product of its sociocultural context (when and where it was made)?