Sunday, April 29, 2018

Talking Tribeca: Little Woods

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.

Little Woods
Directed by Nia DaCosta
U.S. Narrative Competition

Large areas with small populations often present a distinct set of job opportunities to its residents that may involve supporting the economy or local industries. Getting into something else can be difficult, especially because a dearth of people means that circles are small and everyone knows everyone. The temptation to break the law to make a bit of extra cash may be strong, and getting caught in the process isn’t necessarily as much of a deterrent as it should be since a large risk represents a large reward and may be the only way to stay afloat in tough times.

Ollie (Tessa Thompson) is on probation after being caught trafficking prescription pills over the Canadian border to her home in Little Woods, North Dakota. Following her mother’s death, she discovers that she must come up with a considerable sum of money to save her house from being repossessed by the bank, which forces her to reconnect with her sister Deb (Lily James), who is supporting a child on her own and pregnant again with a baby from the same father. Desperate for funds and unable to see any other way out, Ollie decides to turn back to what she knows best to make some quick cash.

This is hardly an optimistic film, one that introduces a woman who clearly has compassion for others but hasn’t experienced much luck in return. Her parole officer (Lance Reddick) is kindhearted and supportive, eagerly providing her an enthusiastic reference for a job, but he also stops by unannounced to make sure that she’s staying out of trouble. Deb’s situation is even more miserable, living in a trailer in a supermarket parking lot and fighting often with her ex (James Badge Dale), whose behavior can be described as bipolar at best. These two sisters have each other even though they don’t always see eye-to-eye, and they’re both in need of a win to keep on going.

Thompson and James are both terrific actresses with a number of previous great roles, including “Creed” and a continuing part on “Westworld” for the former and “Downtown Abbey” and “Baby Driver” for the latter. Here, they do their best to make their characters feel raw and genuine. The story, while fine-tuned with these particularities, is a familiar one that has been covered before in films like “Frozen River,” and this film doesn’t always feel as poignant or purposeful as it should.


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