I know people living in poverty. Their income status never prevents them from doing things like picking up a banjo or making sweet tea with family. Human charms like these transcend socio-economic levels as the independent film Winter's Bone reminds us. It also reminds us that rural poverty is such a sad sad thing.
Winter's Bone is set in the backlands of the Ozarks. It centers around 17-year-old Ree Dolly, played by newcomer Jennifer Lawrence. She is a pretty, determined girl whose journey threatens thorny characters driven only by self-preservation. As is true of most independent films, most the actors are no-namers (though Lawrence has already finished starring in Jodie Foster's new movie). Winter's Bone was directed by Debra Granik, who has done a list of movies none of which I recognize. I have no doubt, however, this amazing movie will yield more opportunities for her.
Ree's mother is mentally challenged and incapacitated. This was likely brought on by a lifestyle of methamphetamine abuse. In other words, it is important to the story that we see Ree has not raised herself alone. There were at one point "greener pastures." At one point, one of the most powerful scenes in the movies, Ree begs her in tears to "just this once" tell her what to do. There are a few scenes like that that make you grip the plastic theater chair handle on one side and the one you love's hand on the other.
Ree has to take care of her mother along with her two siblings who seem to live in ignorance of their blight. They play and smile and jump on their trampoline with the images of abject poverty all around. Their house is a shack, but a profanely beautiful one. In the early scenes, Ree has to make do just to feed the dog with rotten leftovers in Tupperware containers. At one point, they shoot and skin squirrel. The children are priceless characters and they give the impending dark plot a sense of light relief throughout. The scenes where they play and talk with Ree are heartwarming and remind us of our humanity. Whenever Ree has to leave them, you feel tension.