The Poker House (2008)
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The film opens with "based on a true story" and closes with a note that we've just seen the director's real life. OK, but realism and verisimilitude by themselves don't make for good art.
Oh, and it's narrated throughout so there's no possibility that you'll miss something. Narration is great for folks who don't want to take the time to film a story.
It's a shame because there's a good story here - kids growing up around - and being lead into - gambling, drugs, prostitution, theft, etc. We just don't see any of it. We see a superhero girl sententiously pushed down our throats by the writer-director.
Petty obviously had some trouble separating herself from this story, but that is what a film is supposed to be, a story. If Petty had just wanted to recount a tragic day in her childhood, then she should have made a documentary. Since this is supposed to be a film every scene should advance the story in someway. That was one of the things that irritated me about this movie. It dragged on with all these unnecessary scenes that did nothing to advance the plot. Why did we need to see Agnes playing a pick up game of basketball? Why did we need to see Agnes at the Burger joint? Why are there so many scenes of Cammie at the bar? My other problem with this film is its protagonist. Agnes is clearly smart and savvy. Savvy enough to make sure that her little sisters don't see her mother's john, but not smart enough to know better than to make out with her mother's pimp/lover. Trailers for this film described the pimp as a father figure, but who makes out with their father? I also didn't understand why Agnes had Bee leave the poker house when she saw that the degenerates had shown up, but didn't leave herself. She had a basketball to go to why was she hanging around? These decisions and Agnes' obnoxious, chatty, and attention seeking personality make it hard to like her as a character. Also, I would have been more interested in what happened to Agnes and the girls immediately after the ending instead of some vague reference to her leaving for New York years later.
I find it obnoxious how other people who reviewed this movie compare it to a bad HS play or use their one film class as a basis to think they could do a better job telling a memoir that doesn't belong to them.
I had no idea that the director was telling her own story. Had I known that, I feel I would have been less critical throughout. I found myself pulling for these kids to get out in some way, realizing that so many children simply don't.
The few things that I did not enjoy included some characters like the one played by David Alan Grier. While humorous, I'm not sure his role except to be a character.
The narration seemed spotty- I wish it had either been more consistent or taken out completely.
I thought Jennifer Lawrence was brilliant as always. Selma Blair blew me away- she was effective in playing a broken woman you struggle to empathize with. The other two girls were whimsical and you can tell how much their older sister works to protect them, allowing them to keep what little childhood they might have while Agnes literally has hers stolen away.
Jennifer Lawrence was about 16 or 17 during filming, all in the Chicago areas, and she is the main character Agnes who is 14. She and her two younger sisters mostly have to fend for themselves, their mother (Selma Blair, almost unrecognizable) is never fully sober and even if she were does not seem to have any "mothering" skills. Agnes is actually the surrogate mother for the two younger ones. Agnes is also bright, makes straight A's, writes poetry about her gritty life, and is the star basketball player for the school team.
So this is her story, about how she manages to stay above the grime and eventually carve out a better life. Jennifer Lawrence even at her young age is simply superb in her role as Agnes. It was also nice to see Chloë Grace Moretz in an early role as Agnes's little sister Cammie.
SPOILERS: In a good role for him, Bokeem Woodbine is Duval , basically Agnes's mom's pimp. But he also takes a liking to Agnes, they spend long scenes kissing, and her voice-over tells how much she likes his lips. Agnes is young and not wise to the real world, and she thinks he loves her. Then one day of kissing leads to rape. She is shocked, she gets in the tub and washes herself frantically. All trust has been betrayed, but she pulls herself together to go late to the game but plays and scores to erase a large deficit and win the game. The rape was her wake-up call, it influenced her to care for herself and make a career for herself.
Director Lori Petty brings her personal story to the screen. It's a harrowing story. It needs an expert to focus the story onto Agnes. It's a bit scattered. It's got some great young future stars and has great potential. JLaw does some big acting. She is always compelling. Petty really needs a professional writer to focus this material more.
I found a good story, besides that is told by the same person who lived it, which makes it much more real, and they are many emotions in this film, which could reflect only living something like that.
For this movie Jennifer Lawrence won an award for an outstanding performance. Thing with which I also agree, because she embody the character with enough personality and gave him a very real touch to it.
Agnes: "I race the sun home in the morning, and the moon up at night. Anything can happen, and anything does. There's just today, and then there's tonight. And tonight is wonderful"
(SPOILERS TO FOLLOW.) Jennifer Lawrence (nominated for Oscar for last year's WINTER'S BONE) is great bringing a combination of poetry, pathos, and the optimism of youth to writer\director Lori Petty's supposed childhood self, Agnes. The problem is, even for a fictional character, the woes and travails Agnes suffers are larded on to a ludicrous ledge of almost braggadocio. I mean, how likely is it that a girl a couple days past her 14th birthday could be 1) working TWO jobs (as a fast food clerk and professional journalist for the local daily), 2)be pulling down straight "A's" in classes including Calculus & Analytic Geometry and advanced poetry (the canon of which she is expanding with her own voice-over offerings, which she's shown scribbling into her notebooks between everything else), 3) serving as the primary care giver for her 10 and 12 year-old sisters, 4)doing the household shopping her coke-head prostitute mom is incapable of, while being threatened daily to start turning tricks on her own, 5)policing the sleep-over johns and regular pimps over-running her home through the sheer force of her personality, 6)refereeing mom's nightly booze-filled poker games, 7)driving her sisters all over town on errands in a full-sized Cadillac, 8)all the while smoking pot, cigarettes, and boozing herself, 9)while never getting caught out by her school authorities as 10)she becomes a local legend as apparently the best basketball player of EITHER sex in her fairly sizable town, while 11)living a totally color-blind life style, and 12)showing up midway through the second half of a PLAYOFF game with no explanation to anyone on the team (though this flick contends that despite being sexually abused years earlier by her long-gone preacher dad, Agnes' virginity somehow was preserved until a few minutes before game time, when one of mom's pimps forcibly rapes her in self-proclaimed business merger), and 13)scoring "27 points in 7 minutes" (NOT what the movie actually shows, to viewers paying attention, by the way) to eke out a two-point buzzer-beater victory for her visiting team? If you say, "C'mon, it's just a movie," I'd respond, so was HOOSIERS. But the latter film is believable in BOTH tone and events. Ms. Petty's version, on the other hand, sounds like one of Oprah's ill-advised book-of-the-month picks, which she has to retract a week later, when the facts come out.
A young Jennifer Lawrence of Hunger Games fame play Agnus (which is supposed to be Lori as a teen, why the name change I'm not sure but I guess it doesn't matter) and she does so really well.
Selma Blair plays her mother, although she's not really worthy the title of a mother in all honesty.
Anyways overall the acting is very good and it has a lot of really good scenes but the narrative is a little off at times to the point it gets a little confusing, for instance a long while in the movie I thought Chloe Grace Moretz character was Agnus when she was younger but that was not the case, and the job scene just felt like another movie with Jennifer Lawrence playing another character.
Anyway if you can look aside stuff like that this still is definitely worth watching.
I give it a 6.5/10.
Round-Up: I think that the main problem with this film is that we have seen this type of story, many times before. The main draw to the movie, for me, is the fact that that Jennifer Lawrence is in it and I haven't really seen her play a role like this before. It does show that the girl can really act and that she can do other roles away from the famous Katniss in the Hunger Games. Although the movie was only made 7 years ago, Lawrence and Moretz look extremely young and it's amazing how far they have come since this movie. Selma Blair, whose been in the Hellboy franchise and Legally Blonde, played the drug taking mum quite well and she also had some emotional alongside Lawrence. Anyway, the movie is a decent watch but it's quite predictable, with no frills.
I recommend this movie to people who are into their emotional dramas about a young girl whose trying to find a way out because her mums on drugs and gets pimped out by her boyfriend. 4/10
6/10 almost worth seeing, you are not going to waste your time :-)