Share Review: Opening Up About Sexual Assault

Share Mandy (Rhianne Barreto) in Pippa Bianco's "Share." (HBO Films)

Pippa Bianco dives headfirst into the complexities of life after sexual assault in a smartphone-heavy world.

Pippa Bianco’s debut feature Share, a retelling of her 2015 short film of the same name, is a completely unflinching look at modern sexual assault. She narrows her lens to a single girl, Mandy (Rhianne Barreto), in a single suburban high school. The night after a party, Mandy wakes up alone, face down on her front lawn with no recollection of what she’s doing there or how she got there. As events from the night before slowly come to light, so too does a video showing Mandy being assaulted by a group of giggling boys as she lies passed out in a bathroom.

Over the course of the film, Mandy struggles to understand a night she can’t remember as it slowly fractures her family and her friendships. Share is not for the faint of heart. In fact, the highest praise I could give it would be to call it part of an unparalleled trilogy about assault along with Speak (2004) and another HBO original, The Tale (2018). All three films focus on the victim in a way few films do. Where Speak focuses on the power and crushing weight of silence and The Tale focuses on memory and the way we can use it to rewrite our own histories, Share falls somewhere in the middle. 

Bianco focuses her narrative tightly on Mandy. We follow the familiar beats of the rape story—from the bullying by classmates to the push for a trial to the media attention—but Bianco isn’t interested in the theatrics of any of that. She cares about one thing and one thing only: how Mandy is reacting to it all.

Share is full of closeups and sharp focus, almost always centered on Mandy’s face. Halfway through the film, you’ll realize that for all the conversations she has—with the police, with her principal, with therapists—we never see the professionals in detail. We’re always peering over their shoulders to get a better view of Mandy’s reactions or looking at this cast of miscellaneous adults from a distance, through panes of glass, across hallways. We’re as far from them as Mandy seems to feel from everyone in her life.

Bianco wants it to be clear there are no other stars of this story and there is no other perspective that matters. There is only Mandy. And her tactics work.

The only downside to Bianco’s meticulous approach here is that the film can feel almost painfully slow both for such dramatic subject matter and for a tight 89 minutes. This will likely push some viewers away who are more accustomed to rape stories that play out like an episode of Law and Order: SVU, however, I’d encourage those tempted to bail to stick with it.

Bianco wants it to be clear there are no other stars of this story and there is no other perspective that matters. There is only Mandy.

Share’s power is in its honesty. It’s not a brutal honesty, even if it’s still a triggering one. Bianco seems to understand that those who might identify with her work, myself included, don’t need to be retraumatized ad nauseam. The culture at large does that well enough. Instead, she includes a delicate blend of the quiet moments that other films gloss over, like when months later Mandy gently touches the area on her back where a massive bruise once was or the way she can’t stop looking at the spot on the lawn where she awoke. 

But it’s also about the moments you so rarely see, the reactions from a parent you wish you could hear instead of the ones too many girls do. There is a scene in which Mandy screams at her father, who’s been supportive if protective of her, that she got drunk at the party because she wanted to, that no one made her. Her father’s (J.C. Mackenzie) response is to shout back, “Who gives a shit what you did, Mandy?” He argues that it doesn’t matter because nothing she did gave those boys the right to treat her that way, a sharp turn from the victim-blaming we’re so used to seeing.

Share is powerful. Share is written for the vast number of women who will see themselves in Mandy, whether they have been assaulted/abused/harassed themselves or know those who were. There are scenes that made me catch my breath, pause the film, and just sob because everything Mandy was feeling was too, too familiar.

But Share is even more important for those (men in particular) who have no idea what this kind of trauma is really like. For them, the experience will be different. It will be eye-opening. As Mandy’s mother (Poorna Jagannathan) says to her while talking about her father’s reaction to the assault, “It’s different for him. He thinks it’s not normal.” Meaning that as a woman, her mother knows this kind of thing happens every day, the only difference is that it finally happened to her daughter. 

Share is unskippable for the uninformed. But even for those that know the story all too well, this kind of representation is so rarely seen that it’s worth watching for them, too. After all, it’s for them. But that gets to the real heart of Bianco’s work: stories like this have to be seen as for everyone. The story is universal, whether we want to admit it or not.

Share leaves you with a haunting, half-remembered memory of past atrocities this Saturday, July 27 on HBO.

Share Trailer:

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