The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Female superheroes of a different kind

with 10 comments

How often do you see women on the movie screen who actually look like women look for real and not as something that has been twisted in a photoshop session? It can’t be often, judging my initial reaction to Melissa Leo‘s appearance in Frozen River.

Here she was, a middle aged woman with a swollen face, with lines and eyes that carried the burden of a life time, her hair in a mess, trying to pull herself together because she had to, if not for herself, for her children’s sake. Her whole appearance screamed to me: “white trash”.

The first thought that crossed my mind: “Why, I didn’t know the film industry even allowed actresses to look like that. This is pretty awesome!” The second: “she is so beautiful, in the way that only a real, grown-up woman can be”.

But then I dropped the nonsense issue about her looks altogether, letting myself getting pulled into this woman’s efforts to survive in this harsh world in a small town close to the border to Canada.

I wasn’t hard to convince. For sure the pieces of action are fairly modest compared to other movies. The closest you get to violence is a couple of guns being fired, but mostly with the aim to frighten and make a point. And yet there was a tension going on all the time. It didn’t lose my attention for a moment. I wanted to know how things would end for her and her partner in crime, Lily, also a struggling mother, who makes some extra money smuggling immigrants hidden in her car trunk across the border.

True superheroes
There’s a lot of talk about superheroes these days. But Black Widow and her fellow ladies don’t stand a chance against Melissa Leo’s character in terms of resilience and stamina and pure determination to fight for her own and her children’s survival.

The only one who can match her in terms of heroism is the creator of this movie, Courtney Hunt. It took her ten years to finally get the finances to make it possible to make the movie, and she didn’t get it from the industry, but from sponsors that she and her husband found on their own. It was still a low budget movie, a project no one believed in, but which eventually turned up with the the grand jury prize at the Sundance festival as well as two Oscar nominations.

That is no small achievement for a truly independent movie like this.

According to IMDb, Courtney Hunt has directed a few episodes of the TV series In Treatment after this movie came out, but I can’t see that she has another film project going on. I hope the data-base just isn’t up-to-date and that we won’t have to wait another ten years before she can make her next film. There’s so much promise in this film, so much talent that it would be a shame to waste it.

Frozen River (Courtney Hunt, US, 2008) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

May 4, 2012 at 1:00 am

Posted in Frozen River

10 Responses

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  1. Unfotunately, this one didn’t do it for me. One of those movies where everything falls to pieces and then, it falls to pieces some more. For some reason I tend to get bored when there is a very high probability that if anthing good happens, antyhing at all, regardless of how small, it sooner or later turns out bad.

    Still, I have to admit that Leo did a very good performance.


    May 4, 2012 at 5:53 am

    • Things do get a bit bad, but I don’t think it’s quite as dark as you suggest. Surely there’s some kind of glimpse of hope?

      I actually did realize afterwards that there ARE some holes in the plot, script-wise. But it didn’t bother me at all while watching the movie, so it didn’t break it for me afterwards either. I thought this movie was really good mainly because of the environment and situation it depicts so well and because of Melissa Leo’s performance. It reminded me a little bit of Winter’s Bone, though not as gruesome. I’d rate Winter’s Bone higher though. Still: I liked this. Sad it didn’t work for you.


      May 4, 2012 at 7:34 am

      • You are probabaly a more positive person than me, hence the perception of hopeful glimmer 😉 But I am still determined to see Winter’s Bone, even though it promises more of the same.


        May 6, 2012 at 8:29 pm

  2. Amen. Well reasoned. In fact, I sort of argued the similar idea in my own review of this way back when. There’s that scene in this where she gets cracked in the back of the head and she’s bleeding and she can’t go to the hospital but then later when her kids wake her up, even with that wound on the back of her head, she just puts on a brave face and still does what a mom has to do. That’s just amazing to me. That’s truly a hero.


    May 4, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    • Thanks. Yeah. As much as I loved Avengers, her heroic efforts stick with me longer. It’s been a couple of weeks since I watched this film, but it’s still very much alive in my memory.


      May 6, 2012 at 8:27 am

  3. Great post and great movie. Very similar to Winter’s Bone. Melissa Leo was very good. I wasn’t happy with her Oscar win for The Fighter, though. That one should’ve gone to Hailee Steinfeld.


    May 6, 2012 at 1:36 am

    • Thanks. I haven’t seen The Fighter. I’ve heard it said sometimes that when movies are overlooked for Oscars, the directors/actors will get an Oscar for something else that they shouldn’t have had an Oscar for. Perhaps that’s one of those cases.


      May 6, 2012 at 8:29 am

  4. I like this film a lot. A frank, no frills look at a compelling and compromising story. I certainly hope the director goes onto make more films. She’s got talent and I’d certainly watch any film she goes onto make.

    James Blake Ewing

    May 7, 2012 at 5:09 am

    • Yes, I think it was really good. Simply told but in good style. She had to fight really hard though to get it done. I hope she hasn’t given up on a film career.


      May 7, 2012 at 8:53 pm

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