Continuing the theme of the previous posts we focus on two more films which concentrate on young women struggling with growing up whilst dealing with the worst that life throws at them. Unlike the our two female protagonists in the last post, the two young ladies that take centre stage this time are both growing up in small rural communities. Once again both performances propelled the two young ladies to stardom and they both earned a Best Actress nomination in the process.
We kick off with a young lady who would go on to mega-stardom shortly after making a name for herself in the Best Picture nominated Winter’s Bone. I’m talking about Jennifer Lawrence who was a relative unknown when she was given the lead role in Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone. In the film Lawrence plays Ree Dolly, a seventeen-year old girl living in the rural Ozark Mountains who has been forced to become the carer for her younger brother and sister. This is primarily as her drug-dealing father is often away for many months at a time whilst her mother is portrayed as having mental issues of some kind. Whilst it’s clear that Ree longs for a normal life, she’s decided that looking after her family has to take priority. That’s why Ree has to resort to desperate measures to track down her erstwhile father after he’s put up the family’s home as bail for an upcoming court case. Her father’s failure to turn up later puts the house at risk, so Ree is forced to seek help from her extended family who are all scattered across the local area. The only problem is that her family is portrayed as a cagey bunch at best with her Uncle Teardrop being a particularly loose cannon. As the film progresses, Ree’s hopeless search gets more fraught and at one point she encounters a violent attack. Throughout the film Granik portrays Ree as being a young woman who is wise beyond her years but at the same time is completely out of her depth. I personally believe that the film climaxes with a rather violent scene at a cattle fair and after that the film sort of loses its way.
One element of the film that never wavers is the fantastic performance put in by Jennifer Lawrence who, like the two young ladies in the last post, features in almost every scene. Ree is certainly a girl of few words and therefore Lawrence is forced to give a very physical performance. Lawrence’s Ree is almost as raw as the gritty scenery that surrounds and adds to the mystery of the piece. However, while she portrays Ree as hunter and gatherer, Lawrence is also keen to show Ree’s softer side. The scene in which she pleads with her mother to help her is splendidly done as are the moments in which she attempts to toughen her siblings up. Lawrence was rightfully nominated for her role in the film and in my opinion should have won the award. As the downright unbalanced Uncle Teardrop, John Hawkes received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor which was more than deserved. Hawkes has since carved a career as playing charismatic but dangerous characters and he’s able to showcase exactly what he can do here. I also enjoyed the performance put in by Dale Dickey who played one of the area’s more dominant women and later came good in helping Ree on her quest. As I already mentioned, the Ozark region almost becomes a character in itself as the hostile nature of the landscape fits in well with the hostility that Ree experiences from the majority of the characters. Although the film does go downhill towards its conclusion there are still some tense moments and a rather tender one involving Ree and Teardrop. Ultimately this was the film in which Lawrence made her name and one that would later land her roles in both the X-Men and Hunger Game franchises.