Magazine article The Christian Century

Frozen River

Magazine article The Christian Century

Frozen River

Article excerpt

Frozen River.

Written and directed by Courtney Hunt.

Starring Nelissa Leo and Misty Upham.

I've covered the Sundance Film Festival many times and can say with reasonable authority that the movie lovers who brave Utah winters to see world premieres are some of the easiest audiences I've encountered. I've seen parka-clad devotees cheer for films that are run-of-the-mill family squabble movies and give standing ovations to politically correct coming-of-age stories that would never see a movie screen outside of Park City. As a result, I'm always dubious when a film has the Sundance seal of approval stamped on it.

So I'm especially gratified to report that I enjoyed Frozen River, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. True, this film contains many of the story elements that constitute a Sundance favorite (screwed-up families, addiction, racial intolerance, a struggle against the system, etc.), but writer and director Courtney Hunt doesn't allow these familiar themes to overwhelm the script and turn it preachy. Rather, she uses tiny bits of these and other issues to pepper an already strong and believable script.

The film, which is an expanded version of a short film that Hunt made in 2004, plays out along the Canadian border in upstate New York and centers on two tired and frustrated women. Ray Eddy (Melissa Leo) is a stressed-out mom trying to raise her two sons, ages five and 15, by herself (her gambling-addicted husband has flown the coop with the family's savings). Her dream, which we learn about in the first act, is to purchase a new prefab house so they can move out of the cramped trailer they are living in. But this dream seems increasingly unattainable since she can't get a full-time position at the Yankee Dollar discount store where she works and she refuses to let her older son drop out of school and get a job.


Enter Lila Littlewolf (Misty Upham), a single Native American mom whose life is even more desperate than Ray's. She too lives in a trailer, but she earns her income by smuggling illegal immigrants from China and Pakistan across the Canadian border into the U. …

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