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August 20, 2018 | by  | in Film | [ssba]

The Ties That Bind

Little Woods 


As one among many in my two week binge of NZIFF films, I wondered what would make Little Woods stand out from the bizarre, intriguing, charming stories I had already consumed. The answer comes in the form of a sisterly bond that withstands the financially arid landscape of middle-class America.
Ollie (Tessa Thompson) is close to the end of her probation period, after getting caught at the Canadian border with medication for her dying mother. Putting her life as a peddler behind her, she serves coffee and food to oil rig workers, until her mother’s house is threatened with foreclosure and her sister Debbie (Lily James) is pregnant with her second child. Ollie has to come up with money for the house and to support her sister by resorting to dealing OxyContin to the residents of Little Woods.
Tessa Thompson and Lily James, especially, are the standout of this film as they create a strong relationship of unconditional love, layered with a profound, aching undertone as they tread water in their impoverished hometown where “being pregnant costs $8000”. While the story of Little Woods is far from unusual, showing the protagonist going back to their illicit past and leading up to “one last job”, the narrative is presented with artistic care by Nia DeCosta, and lacks the usual stylish loudness of most Hollywood Westerns. This is exemplified in moments of tension which are devoid of scoring, which elevate the two leads even more.
Overall, Little Woods is an expertly shot, dire representation of the turmoil that middle class citizens face on a daily basis. It’s carried along by two stellar performances, despite the heavy subject matter it deals with.


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