Director: Lori Petty
Script: Lori Petty & David Alan Grier
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Bokeem Woodbine, Sophia Bairley, Chloe Grace Moretz, Selma Blair
Running time: 89 minutes
14 year old Agnes (Jennifer Lawrence) and her two younger sisters, Bee (Sophie Bairley) and Commie (Chloe Grace Moretz) live in Iowa, in 1976, in a run down, poor area full of winos, pimps, prostitutes and drug addicts. In fact the girls’ mother is both a whore and a drug addict and does little to ‘mother’ her daughters. In fact, Agnes seems to have taken on the role of surrogate mum, while her spaced-out mother services clients, on behalf of her pimp boyfriend, Duval (Bokeem Woodbine), in the next room.
Apart from her sisters, Agnes’s other passion in life is her basketball, which she takes very seriously and is very good at. She also clearly doesn’t want to end up like her smack-head mother and so is quite studious and tries to do her homework, even when her delightful mother suggests she go on the game and start earning her way! To top all of this Agnes is also starting to fall for the cool charms of her mum’s pimp, who corners her from time to time for a seemingly innocent kiss and canoodle, although he’s obviously grooming her to use her as a new disposable piece of female flesh for his regular clients.
Things in this part of the world are quite grim and the two younger sisters try their best to make it, in one piece, through each day too. Bee (12) has a paper round, collects empty bottles to sell, and seems to have applied for a foster parent to get her out of the hole she’s in, while little Commie spends most of her time around a friend’s house, scoffing their food and worming her way into the father’s affections since her own father left them when she was still only about two years of age, hence she is desperate for some fatherly love.
Things slowly build to a head, to the point when Agnes is sexually assaulted and she takes matters into her own shaking hands. Hands that are now holding a gun!
Behind Closed Doors, or The Poker House as it was previously called, purports to be about Lori Petty’s own childhood (although, somewhat confusingly, the end of the films’ credits state that it’s all fictitious) and is more of a melodrama than straight drama. Not a lot of interest happens, but it’s not the kind of film that has to have much happen; it’s all about the characters and the acting, and on that level it delivers and it is easy to see why that, in particular, Jennifer Lawrence and Chloe Grace Moretz are now household names. They both nail their characters and their performances are both excellent. In fact pretty much all the acting is top-notch here and if performances over story are your thing then Behind Closed Doors will really appeal to you.
However, I have to admit that I found the film a bit of a slog to sit through. Beyond the performances, the quirky characters and the naturalistic dialogue, I didn’t really find much to ‘float my boat’ here.
Petty’s direction is okay, and she certainly knows how to get good performances out of her actors, the period dressing was very good, and there were moments of humour to lighten the mood, but I felt the ‘story’ was lacking any real dynamism and the ending was all a bit, err, lacking.
To sum up then, this is worth a look, but probably not a second visit…
101 Films are distributing Behind Closed Doors. There were no extras on the disc, which is kind of a shame as this is the sort of film that could really benefit from a director’s commentary and such like.