Winter's Bone

Quick reminder – I am back in school so columns will be catch as catch can. I managed to squeeze a little free time out of my ridiculous schedule this past week to watch a film I've been wanting to see for a little while. I am a giant fan of Jennifer Lawrence and seem to like her more and more every time I see her work. (Soon I'll have to go into rehab to avoid falling in love with her.)

Winter's Bone is a stark thriller starring Ms. Lawrence in a role that has something in common with her role in the Hunger Games. Her character Ree, much like Katniss, is struggling to keep her family together while living a poverty-stricken, hardscrabble existence. Like Katniss her mother is nearly catatonic and, like Katniss, she is caring for a younger sister. She also has the care of a younger brother, a horse and a boatload of dogs.

They are barely making ends meet – or almost making ends meet, as Ree has to ask her neighbor to take in her horse, which they can no longer afford to feed. Things are bad enough before Ree discovers that their father is due in court very soon and has put their cabin and the property up as collateral for his bail. If Ree can't find him and get him into court her family will lose their house and land, leaving them penniless and homeless.

The search for him is the textbook definition of ridiculously difficult. She is threatened at every turn and stonewalled when she manages to get through an encounter safely. Ms. Lawrence is impeccable in this role, stoic when she needs to be, loving with the kids and her mother, and tough as rhino hide when dealing with all of the terrible people that are in the way of her quest. Her style of acting is so natural and fluid that you could think you're watching a documentary, except there is none of the awkwardness that ordinarily comes with a documentary. (Everyone else is also good, especially when they are being super scary.)

One of the things I appreciated the most is the lack of sexual threatening. In many films or television shows a strong woman will be put in her place, shown she doesn't have any power, by being sexually assaulted or threatened. For instance in last week's episode of Banshee one of the crooks menaces one of the hostages before dragging her away with the obvious intent of sexual assault. It's the easiest, laziest, most cliched way of intimidating/harming/breaking down a female character. Unfortunately there are still plenty of network/studio executives who insist that all strong female characters be made to cry on screen. But Ree is not treated the way women in pop culture too often are. She is treated as a person, instead of a commodity. (It's sad that I am so excited about something that should be a given.)

The setting of Winter's Bone is grim. It is stark enough that the setting is practically a character itself. It's a quiet thriller, full of suspense, that is significantly more engaging that many thrillers filled with fighting, running and shooting. (Not there isn't any of that in this film; it's just presented differently.) The story and the location reminded me a little of Lauren Myracle's book Shine, which also takes place in a poverty-stricken part of America that has been impacted by meth.

This film is bleak but it's also brilliant. It picked up two awards at Sundance. It's unfortunate that it didn't get the kind of marketing push some other movies get.

You can watch the trailer here.

Bonus Treat:
This week's bonus treat is an imagined monologue by Mike Lacher which is essentially a rant from the typeface Comic Sans. It is railing against those who loathe it and cackling with glee over its assumption that it will be around forever.