When I first heard of Winter's Bone, I figured it was one those gloomy Sundance movies that are like homework: watching it would be more of a duty than a pleasure. But then, that's what I thought Frozen River and The Visitor would be like, and so I skipped them when they were theatrically released, only to realize upon seeing them on DVD that they are terrific movies. So after Winter's Bone collected raves and prizes all over the place, I decided not to let this one slip by.
As it turns out, my first impression was correct.
Bleaker than bleak - well, you should know what to expect from a title like Winter's Bone - this drama is about a 17-year-old rural Missouri girl (Jennifer Lawrence) who is told that, if she can't locate her meth-making father in time for his court date, the police are going to repossess the house and land that she, her sweet younger siblings, and their mentally ill mother live on. So she sets out on a quest to find him, which entails her becoming involved with her frightening extended family of dirtbags.
This isn't a bad film, or even a disappointing one, but I just couldn't get into it. From the start, I found the dialogue too honed and formal to match the verite-style filmmaking and effectively grubby casting. And the actors (including Me and You and Everyone We Know's talented John Hawke as Lawrence's haunted uncle and a surprise appearance by an aging Sheryl Lee, who played Laura Palmer on Twin Peaks) were apparently directed to speak their lines flatly, which for me further underscored the dialogue's stiffness. I couldn't get past that, even as I became involved in the young heroine's dangerous journey. What's worse, when that journey was over, I didn't feel like I was taken very far emotionally.
There are moments of quiet, unexpected heroism, and Lawrence's character is impressive in her resolve, but those weren't enough for me to be deeply affected by Winter's Bone. Perhaps you will feel differently.