January 30, 2011

#117: Winters Bone(4/10)

It's been a couple weeks since I posted anything. I took some "time off" as we welcomed our baby girl. I had planned to write a few posts ahead of time and space them out, but that didn't happen, mostly because I hadn't seen enough movies lately that I wanted to write about. Even though I haven't been writing the last couple weeks, I have taken the time to see a few films. I decided to try Redbox for the first time so that I could see The Social Network. Alas, they didn't have it on bluray, so I went with another one I really wanted to check out... Winter's Bone.

If you haven't heard of Winter's Bone... It is the story of a 17 year old girl who has to track down her father in order to keep their house, as he has put it up for his bail. It is set in the Ozarks of southern Missouri, not too far from where I sit right now. This film has received tons of critical praise, especially for the lead performance by Jennifer Lawrence. A lot of critics found a spot for Winter's Bone on their top ten of 2010, which made me want to see it even more.

If I had to describe this film in a single word it would be "disappointment."  I must have really missed something here. I am unable to see what so many critics thought was so great about it. The atmosphere is bleak; the setting ominous. But a well-established mood does not a good film make.  The lead performance is fine. I did not fine it great, or even noteworthy. John Hawkes is very good in a supporting role as Teardrop. Outside of those two performances I found the rest to be... well... bad.  It was borderline corny.  The entire downtrodden hillbilly ensemble was un-ironically ignorant.  The heroine was supposed to stand in contrast to her surroundings. She did, but not really in a good way.  She is the lone optimist is a world where none should exist.  Her positive attitude and determination keep her moving on this quest, but her only chance at success is dependent on the kindness and help of others.  It doesn't seem like a very good strategy to me, and doesn't make for a very compelling story.

The way the story is set up you think you are going to see this girl use her wit and critical thinking to get to the bottom of this business and save her family. She does nothing of the sort. Instead she literally just walks around and has the same conversation with one person after another. Spoiler alert... eventually she succeeds, but only because she keeps subjecting us viewers to a monotonous pseudo-detective tale. It never connected with me, and it never picked up enough pace to make anything that happened compelling.  The entire time I was holding out for some amazing ending that made it all worthwhile.  That didn't happen either.

Let's talk a little about the setting. This film has won awards at Sundance and was praised for it's authenticity.  Who made the decision that it was so authentic? I am no expert on backwoods living, and I can guarantee neither are 95% of the people that are claiming it is so authentic.  I paints the picture of the shitty lives of the less fortunate.  If you need an arthouse film to make you feel bad about half the people living in middle America then that sucks.  Winter's Bone wants to force this bleak reality down your throat without giving you a reason.  The narrative sits in the backseat twiddling it's thumbs and the ambiance is supposed to make you feel something.  They don't work together at all.

The overall movie was definitely not good.  That doesn't mean that it was a horrible experience to watch.  There were a few positive things about it.  The cinematography and scenery were pretty neat to see.  You aren't going to see many films shot on location in southern Missouri (there is a reason for that).  There are also some impressive scenes in Winter's Bone. John Hawkes has some good ones.  I liked some of the storytelling devices.  I liked that the entire impetus for this story is the father, yet he never appears in a single scene.  There are no flashbacks showing him. We know nothing about him, but we are able to pick up pieces along the way.  This would have paid off better if the ending had been more satisfying.  I don't mean that the ending should have been happier. It should have concluded in a more edifying way.

Anytime there is a small film that pops up like this I want nothing more than to be able to recommend it to everyone.  I want to tell you to rush out and rent this gem that proves how powerful an indie movie can be.  However, Winter's Bone will not allow me to do this. I totally didn't "get" it. You probably had no intention of seeing this film anyway, so we might as well just keep it that way.

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