Saturday, February 14, 2009

I Wish I Had a River I Could Skate Away On

There's still time to catch Melissa Leo's Oscar-nominated (and Critics Choice Award-winning) performance in Frozen River before the Oscars next Sunday. It's out on DVD, even BlueRay. Directed and written by Courtney Hunt, the film is also nominated for best original screenplay.

This is a quiet, small, powerful film about motherhood. The plot involves a woman, Ray Eddy (Leo), living in a northern border town near Canada, who's husband has recently left her to go on another gambling binge. She's left with two sons, a sweet five year old, and an angry, hurt, sensitive 15 year-old. The timeframe is a few weeks before Christmas until the day after. I won't repeat to say how it transpires that she ends up getting into the people smuggling business--transporting illegal aliens from Canada to the US--but suffice to say she is doing it out of desperation. She needs money. She has a dead-end job and a deposit on a double-wide trailer she's going to lose if she doesn't come up with the balance / balloon payment. Also, there's no food in the house (but always food for lunch money even if she has to dig under the cusions) and no presents under the tree.

To get the aliens from Canada to the US she and her partner in crime Lila (Misty Upham) have to drive across a frozen river and transport the poor souls back in the trunk. It's a dangerous business with shady characters on both sides, and neither Ray nor Lila are saints. They are purely mercenary and lose a bit of their own humanity every time they make the trip.

The dramatic movement is between the two women as they go from enemies to business partners to friends--in all cases their bond evolves over something related to the unbearable burden of being a mother in poverty. Lila's son has been "stolen" by a sister-in-law, because Lila couldn't take care of it, and Ray's oldest son blames her for driving the father away. In one sub-plot, Leo accidentally seemingly kills a baby of a Pakistani woman and then Lila and, according to Lila, divine providence, bring it back to life. The scenes between Ray and her son are terribly affecting, and I have to say hit me very deeply and personally: I won't go into detail here, but my mother was quite a bit like Ray, our family situation was similar, and sadly I recognized me and my two brothers in the portraits of the sons.

A mother's love will always melt a frozen heart, but like the blowtorch the boy uses to melt the frozen pipes under the trailer one frigid night, sometimes the heat is so intense it can burn the whole house down.

1 comment:

CP said...

The other day I mentioned that I really liked your last post. This is the one I was referring to.