We watched “Speak,” a 2004 television movie based on a well-received novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, who specializes in books for teens and young adults. “Speak” focuses on Melinda Sordino — played by Kristen Stewart — who is entering high school at a pivotal time in her young life. She has been the victim of a sexual assault, and she has not been able to confide in anyone — a frequent dilemma for women and girls who have been abused. The assault on Melinda has indirectly estranged her from her former clique so that she enters the new school environment as a solitary and lonely figure. Her parents — played by Elizabeth Perkins and D.B. Sweeney — are not completely inattentive to Melinda, but they are preoccupied with their own problems and clueless about hers. In the event, as she is increasingly isolated, Melinda becomes less and less willing to engage anyone in conversation. The only people with whom she has any satisfactory relationships are a rebellious art teacher — played by Steve Zahn — who alternately goads and encourages Melinda to express her self through images of trees, and her lab partner — played by Michael Angarano — who seems immune to the social dynamics of the high school.


This is a well written and well told story. It’s all about Melinda, and therefore all about Kristen Stewart. And Kristen Stewart is up to the challenge. She is this movie, and the other players, perhaps with some help from director and screenplay writer Jessica Sharzer, give Stewart space. The actress has been busy since she made this movie at the age of 13, and it’s reasonable to expect that she’ll stay that way.

Melinda is presented as an observer of her own life, and her narration is laced through the story. Stewart’s understated delivery of the quick-witted teenager’s sardonic remarks adds palpable substance to the film. “It’s time for a mental health day,” Melinda explains. “So conjugate this: I cut class. You cut class. He/she/it cuts class.”

The Lifetime Channel will broadcast this film at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, March 23.