Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Frozen River is a tersely told drama about a woman living in the bottom half of those "Two America's" John Edwards used to always talk about. With a dead-end job at a discount store, a gambling addict for a husband, two young dependents and a drafty mobile home, Ray is barely holding on. Suddenly crime seems like the only viable option.
Melissa Leo is exquisitely brittle in the lead role. I can't remember the last time an actress's performance felt so lived-in.
Big ups to writer/director Courtney Hunt, too, who clearly took her time in crafting a script that's lean and true and speaks volumes about poverty and desperation without saying a word. She shot a short film a few years back with the two lead actresses (Leo and Misty Upham) in a variation of what was to become the "duffle bag scene," then and she and her husband scrambled to raise the funding themselves to make the feature. Shot in just 24 days on a shoestring, the indie gem ended up winning the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.
A friend and I were lucky enough to see a screening offering a Q & A with the two lead actresses and got some behind-the-scenes details, like the fact that the director asked Leo to watch John Wayne movies to prepare for her role. The stoic cowboy research paid off, big time, and, if merit is Hollywood's guide, Leo might end up taking home some shiny mantel jockeys come awards time.
A special shout-out to costume designer Martina Melendez, too. Dingy fleecewear and whitewashed jeans? Nailed it.
Glib commentary aside, Hunt and her team deserve great praise for showing a slice of life too often ignored on the big-screen and in the world at large. A huge swath of the world's population is made up of the working poor. Their stories deserve to be told and their struggles deserve to be acknowledged.