Behind Closed Doors, The Poker House (2008)
Directed by: Lori Petty
Written by: David Alan Grier, Lori Petty
Starring: Bokeem Woodbine, Chloë Grace Moretz, Jennifer Lawrence, Selma Blair, Sophi Bairley
BEHIND CLOSED DOORS (2008)
aka The Poker House
Directed by Lori Petty
With their mum out of her face on drugs and busy sleeping with men for money, 14 year old Agnes and her two younger sisters do what they can to earn money, get food and to find some sort of normal social interaction in their life. Agnes is looking forward to her upcoming basketball game, of which she’s her school’s star player, but the unstable life at home makes it difficult to get her other studies done. She’s grateful to have Duval, her mother’s pimp, in the home looking after them. He has a soft spot for Agnes and often tells her he loves her. The feeling is mutual. However, Agnes has yet to learn just what sort of man Duval is.
Based on the true story of Lori Petty’s childhood, an artist and actress who you might be familiar with from her role as Tyler in Kathryn Bigelow’s tremendous surfer movie Point Break, BEHIND CLOSED DOORS is a harrowing drama of how a teenage girl is forced to grow up quick beyond her years and look after her younger siblings due to the lack of her care provided by her prostitute, drug-addicted mother. Trapped with no-one to turn to, Agnes’ future looks bleak. She still loves her mum and needs her but unfortunately her mother isn’t one she can rely upon and may not even feel the same way about her own daughters as they do about her.
In one of her first film performances, Jennifer Lawrence shines as Agnes. Doing her best to look after her sisters and to create something good for herself, Agnes powers through and holds the family together even though during quieter, alone moments she succumbs to the situation she’s in. She comments on how long life has been like this for the girls. She talks about her father, a minister, and how he used to batter their mother and when they eventually lived solely with their mum, things didn’t improve much. Whilst Agnes comes off as a strong character who’s older than her years, Lawrence manages to convey the child that she is and the tragic circumstances she has to endure that no child should have to see nor suffer. Her sisters, Bee and Cammie, are played by Sophi Bairley and Chloe Grace Moretz respectively. Both kids are full of character and are loved by the supporting characters around them, from the homeless guys who cash in glass bottles to the neighbourhood bar owner. They get more from the people around town than they do from their own mother, Sarah (Selma Blair), who’s often out of her face on cocaine and abusive to her kids. Her parenting skills leave a lot to be desired as she’s often on her back servicing clients for her intimidating pimp Duval (Bokeem Woodbine), who’s known to get handy with his fists if she isn’t truthful about the money she’s earned.
The film’s structure is quite loose which, as a whole, doesn’t work too well. Even with the voiceover from Agnes, the film just slowly drifts along, switching scenes whenever it feels like with no rhyme or reason. It’s sometimes hard to pin down the timeframe and the purpose of these scenes however the lack of structure in the film mimics the lack of structure in the lives of these three young girls. Time goes very slowly when you’re not having fun. Despite this, the story is quite poignant and gets its point across. It’s hard to enjoy a movie like this, but the film did well to show the brighter moments in the children’s lives as well as the troubled ones.
BEHIND CLOSED DOORS is merely one day in the teenage life of director and writer, Lori Petty. This 90 minutes of heartbreaking drama was enough for me and it’s upsetting that for some children this is their life that they have to deal with every single day. Whilst the entire movie is a difficult watch, especially her mother’s attitude with her daughter, the scenes between Agnes and Duval are the most shocking to view. Agnes is a young girl who just wants to be loved and likes the attention from Duval, even though she doesn’t realise the true nature of it. Of course, the viewer sees the attention Duval gives her for what it really is and what he ends up doing is both physically and mentally destructive on so many levels that it is a blessing someone so young as Agnes can have the courage to move forward and create something better which they deserve. It’s inspiring to know that Lori Petty has chosen not to let her abuse define her as a person and that she has the courage to tell her tale which may help others who’ve experienced something similar.