Much to my mother's dismay, it has taken me some many months to finally catch her recommendation from almost a year ago (and well, honestly it took an active choice to move the title from somewhere in the middle region of my Netflix queue to commandeer to the top slot) but I finally watched Frozen River over the long 4th of July holiday weekend.
I should caution you, this film is certainly similar to this past year's Best Picture nominee-- Winter's Bone-- in its wrenching portrayal of a woman struggling to survive and the questioning of morality and the virtue of "following the rules".
Frozen River, released in 2008, stars Melissa Leo (winner of the Best Supporting Actress in The Fighter) as Ray Eddy, a not-so-young, but at the same time not-so-old (the deep lines of worry on her face may deceive us) mother living in upstate New York along the Canadian border, scraping to get enough money together for her dream house. No, this is not Malibu Barbie's mansion or even a modest split level home with three bedrooms and two and a half baths, it is a double wide. A double wide trailer. A significant upgrade from her current trailer she shares with her two sons and her gambling-addicted husband who's just run off with all of her savings just a few days before Christmas.
Working part-time at a local dollar store aptly called Yankee Dollar, Ray can barely afford to put food on the table (and sometimes even that is a stretch as on more than one occasion Ray is reduced to feeding her two sons popcorn and tang).
On arguably a fortuitous trip to the local Mohawk Reservation so-called "high stakes" Bingo, searching for her degenerate husband, Ray recognizes her husband's car in the parking lot. Following the vehicle as it peels out of the driveway leads Ray to another trailer (in possibly worse condition than her own) and to a Mohawk woman named Lila. From this first meeting we learn that Lila makes her living in an inventive, if not illegal, way - smuggling illegal aliens across the border from Canada.
From here it is not long (and a few more hardships begin to take their tole) and Ray is pulled deeper and deeper into the smuggling game. The question is, how long until the smuggling duo's luck runs out? And, will Ray triumph over all and finally get that double wide?
Melissa Leo gives a commanding performance as Ray. If you've ever spent time in upstate NY (to some of us who have fondly referred to as "the frozen tundra") you will recognize Ray in every down trodden woman looking to take care of her kids on a minimum wage salary while contending with frozen pipes, addiction, K-Mart's short operating hours, and searching for a good deal on food stuffs at the local "Chopper" (Price Chopper that is) food market.
Little known Misty Upham (also seen in HBO's Big Love) portrayal of Lila Littlewolf is reminiscent of the character "Sue" in Clint Eastwood's triumph Gran Torino (another great film, but for entirely different reasons)-- honest and bare-- and what one might expect of a single mom working just enough to get by on the reservation.
Frozen River is not for the faint of heart, but is recommended for movie goers who enjoyed Winter's Bone, The Fighter, and perhaps Leonardo DiCaprio's portrayal of Jim Carroll in 1995's The Basketball Diaries.
The Bee Charmer Review Rating: B+