Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tension and Motherhood in Frozen River

Melissa Leo as Ray Eddy Working at the Yankee Dollar
Photos by Jory Sutton © 2007 Frozen River Productions, LLC. Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics

When your means and opportunities fall short of the American Dream, a woman needs to reassess her dream or find a less savory way to make things happen. Ray Eddy is a woman whose dreams are dashed by the men around her. Her husband runs away with the money to pay for the doublewide, a prefab house that is supposed to replace the family trailer. Her boss refuses to promote her to assistant manager at the Yankee Dollar. As a middle aged woman with a lot of tattoos, two sons, and few options to improve her situation, Ray is the perfect example of the women Barbara Ehrenreich writes about, the women who find themselves choosing between food and gasoline.

Ray's fortunes, though, shift when she meets Lila, a Mohawk smuggler who involves her in a human trafficking operation to bring illegal immigrants across the Canadian-American border through Mohawk territory. The law of either country doesn't apply on Mohawk territory, where a tribal council makes determinations instead. Each trip earns the driver $2400, paid in two installments. But, in order to make the journey, the women have to cross the frozen river between the two countries, a perilous journey as weather conditions affect the strength of the ice to support cars. With four trips, Ray will have enough money for her payment before Christmas.

This film works on the strength and believability of its characters and their relationship to one another. The film is certainly a spin on the buddy film genre in which an unlikely duo must work together. Both Ray and Lila are full of suspicion and distrust in a world that has shown them no pity. But both women are still mothers, and they connect on this one basic point -- a mother will do anything for her children. Their tense and hostile conversations keep the story engaging, as the viewer waits to see if any reconciliation between them is possible past their initial bond of motherhood.

The performanes in the film are excellent. Melissa Leo delivers an outstanding performance as a woman who has come to expect disappointment in life. Despite her life-beaten appearance, she struggles to maintain dignity and raise her two sons with love and discipline. The simple act of applying mascara is transformed into a sanity-saving ritual through Leo's nuanced performance. Ray is an immensely likable character, and perhaps it is difficult to understand exactly why she is in such a demeaned situation in the first place.

The film opens in the AMC on August 22.

No comments: