Review: True Crime Documentary Girl in the Picture Expertly Unravels a Life of Mystery, Abuse and Tragedy

In a few short years, director Skye Borgman has quickly become one of the finest documentary filmmakers, specializing in true-crime cases that are so strange, twisty and complicated (Abducted in Plain Sight, Dead Asleep) that they almost feel fictional and too bizarre to be real. This streak continues with Girl in the Picture, the tale of a young mother’s death and her son’s subsequent kidnapping, both presumably at the hands of her much older husband in the 1990s. But the more the police, the FBI, and later an investigative journalist dig into the case, the more they discover about young Sharon Marshall’s true identity, as well as the identity of her possible killer, Franklin Floyd, who made this woman’s life genuine hell for most of her existence.

Based on reporting and books by journalist Matt Birkbeck (Finding Sharon and A Beautiful Child), Girl in the Picture is a harrowing story about Sharon overcoming a harsh upbringing and growing up smart and kind. As a result, she got a full scholarship to Georgia Tech when she graduated high school, but her father wouldn’t let her go. For Birkbeck, it was his reaction upon seeing a department store-posed photo of father and daughter when she was quite young that clued him in that something was wrong; he claims she had the face of someone in distress, and he likely was not wrong (Birkbeck is well known for his previous investigative work involving Robert Durst). 

It became clear shortly after her death that Sharon’s so-called husband was someone else entirely, and that they had been moving around the country (mostly the south), living under different identities. The true nature of their relationship only gets more shocking as the film goes on, as well as the relationship between her and her son, Michael, all of which is uncovered through DNA evidence. And so investigators collectively began wondering, who was the real Sharon Marshall? 

Covering nearly three decades, filmmaker Borgman carefully, expertly peels back the layers of lies to get to the truth—or at least more questions. Girl in the Picture not only paints a portrait of the sickening lifestyle Sharon was forced to endure (for example, Floyd forced Sharon to become a stripper once she turned 18 to earn them money, which is why he stopped her from going to college), but it illustrates how this case haunted so many investigators with lingering questions that they took with them long after they retired. There most certainly come points in the storytelling where we assume some questions will never get answered, such as what happened to young Michael after Floyd likely abducted him.

The film digs deep into the lifetime of Floyd’s many identities and crimes, as well as a possible explanation of why his life turned out the way it did, without excusing his behavior even slightly. Girl in the Picture is another captivating example of documentary storytelling, while also acting as a beautiful tribute to someone with so much potential and resilience that it crushes a small part of you that her life turned out the way it did. The film is not an easy watch, but the worthiness of its story makes it necessary.

The film is now streaming on Netflix.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.