Frozen River

The Nominations:

The Black-and-White:

A review by Moviegirl

I’ll start by saying that we couldn’t get through this DVD. And, for a film that is only 97 minutes long, that’s saying something.

Here’s the synopsis from the oscar.com website:

Abandoned by her husband, Ray is left to raise their two sons in a broken-down trailer. When her efforts to buy a new home for her boys lead her to the brink of financial ruin, she allows herself to be drawn into a dangerous smuggling ring operating across the U.S.-Canadian border.

I really wanted to like this film. In a year where all of the Best Director nominees are men, all of the other screenplay (adapted and original) nominees are men, and two of the five Best Picture nominees had an almost all-male cast, the fact that this movie was written and directed by a woman, and had women as its central characters really made me want to support it.

And yet.

Maybe it was just that the setup seemed so overused. Another story about a newly-single mom with a mouthy teenage son and chipper-school-age son, who turns to a life of crime to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. It’s basically Weeds set in upstate New York — substituting people-smuggling for pot, and Native Americans for the black folks.

Maybe it’s just that I didn’t have any sympathy for the main character or her financial “troubles” that are the catalyst for the events of the film. The tagline is “desperation knows no borders” but I simply didn’t buy the “desperation.” This is a woman who can afford two cars, cigarettes, a cell phone, lunch money for her kids every day, and a multi-bedroom home with a electricity and running water. The crisis that leads her to become a criminal is the whining of her 15-year old teenage son — who she won’t let get an after-school job — that their big-ass TV is going to get repossessed by the “rent to own” people if she doesn’t come up with the payment (which is something like $250), and that she might lose her $1500 deposit on her new double-wide.

Not $15,000. Fifteen hundred. Is this really desperate times calling for desperate measures?

Supposedly Courtney Hunt’s main theme for the movie is the lengths a mother will go to in order to protect her children, and her point in making this movie about two moms from two cultures was to show that this is a universal trait. And yet, the main character is willing to risk going to jail and leaving her children with no one to take care of them because she doesn’t want to lose $1500 or their big-ass TV? Is that really a response that mothers make universally?

We’ve seen four of the five nominees for original screenplay and it’s hard to know where this one falls in the pack. Even though this is probably the only movie ever to address the smuggling of people out of Canada, I still feel like the plot wasn’t original. Also, the tone was monotonous and oppressive, and — while I understand that that might have been the point, given the main character’s circumstances — it just couldn’t keep my attention the way In Bruges or Milk did.

It’s possible that we are not meant to sympathize with the main character and just think of her as an idiot who is risking a lot for no reason. It’s possible that this is a morality tale where we learn that cheaters never prosper, crime doesn’t pay, stay in school, etc etc. And if that’s the case, then I think that this should win.

But I think that this was meant to be serious, and that we were meant to feel sorry for the “poverty” portrayed in the film. In which case, I refer the filmmaker/writer to Slumdog Millionaire, which makes the Frozen River family’s life look like, to quote CJ Cregg, “an East Hampton clambake” by comparison.

I’ll also say that to me, the really compelling story was that of the people on the reservation and the people who were being smuggled in. But all of that seems to be window dressing, which to me is a missed opportunity and another reason this screenplay shouldn’t win.

We’ve also seen three of the five performances up for Best Actress. Sadly, all three characters were completely humorless, were written with very little nuance, and seem to have the same facial expression for 90% of the movie. Because of that, I can’t really say that this performance should win over the others.

It’s possible that had we sat through the whole thing, my opinions above would be different. But, with less than a week to go before the show, and half a dozen movies still to watch, we’ll never know.

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