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Winter in hard-scrabble upstate New York. Irene is working class, a mother of two boys, and a user of cocaine. She gets into trouble and checks into a rehab program where she meets Bob, a nurse. After she goes home to her husband and returns to her job as a grocery checker, she stays in touch with Bob and the intimations of an affair begin. By now, she's changed jobs, cleaning houses with her friend Lucy. The temptations of drugs are close at hand. Can she handle sobriety? What about Bob? Written by
Farmiga Soars in a Low-Budget Study of an Emotional Desolate, Cocaine-Addicted Wife and Mother
Having been intrigued by Vera Farmiga's idiosyncratic turn as a confused police psychologist in Martin Scorsese's viscerally impressive "The Departed", I was curious to see her in this critically acclaimed low-budget 2005 indie. As it turns out, she gives a startling, soul-bearing performance as Irene, a working class wife and mother with a cocaine dependency problem. The primary difference between this film and more conventionally moralizing addiction movies is how her drug-taking habit has so casually permeated her life.
Written (with Richard Lieske) and directed by first-timer Debra Granik, the film provides a documentary-like feel for Irene's downtrodden existence in New York's blue-collar-dominated Ulster County as a supermarket cashier, who has been likely a stoner for most of her adult life. Cut off by her drug dealer for falling behind on her payments, she pilfers one of her children's birthday checks and realizes the depths she has plumbed. Checking herself into rehab, Irene looks like she is on the road to recovery, but she is hamstrung by an affair that starts with Bob, a male nurse recovered from his own addiction. Compounded by her firing from the market and a husband who continues to enable her, she finds herself in a vicious circle of entangled dependency and dwindling hope.
The movie gets choppy and unnecessarily elliptical at times, although it is not as desultory as one would expect from the set-up. Don't expect any bravura set pieces for Farmiga, who is in almost every scene. It is the utter sense of emotional desolation she conveys in the small moments that resonates. Even when she shows how much she cares for her two sons or has moments of hope about a brighter future, there is a lingering melancholy that haunts all her scenes. Though clearly overshadowed, Hugh Dillon is quite good as Bob, as is Clint Jordan as husband Steve. I was surprised to find out from the informative commentary track by Granik and Farmiga that many of the supporting players were local non-actors. The 2006 DVD also includes the primitive but still impressive 1997 twenty-minute short, "Snake Feed", upon which the film is based.
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