Quick synopsis: A mother of two with a sketchy past earns her keep by washing windows at traffic lights, hoping to earn back the custody of her kids. After promising her daughter a birthday party, she fights the social services and break the rules to keep her word.
I went into this with completely the wrong attitude. I thought it would be more like a feminist buddy road movie. Two women of different generations working together and learning things about life. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll marvel at the power of friendship.
That’s………that’s not what happened. This is bleak. Not in a “everybody is going to die horrifically” way, but in a “you cannot beat the system, it’s rigged against you” way. I haven’t felt this hopeless since The Day Shall Come. Similar to that, you understand every decision the main character makes. You can see her dig herself deeper and deeper. You know she’s making mistakes, and she knows it too. But it’s the only thing she can do. Much like that film, you’re watching it and you can just sense it’s not going to end well. No matter how good your intentions are, there are sometimes when the system fails you. Even if she went 100% through the correct procedures, she would still be waiting months or years to get her children back. When that’s the “right” way, you can understand why she would try another way.
She is frustrated and that is easy to see. You can’t really blame her either. Her husband abused her kids, leaving one of them with permanent injuries, and she killed him in self-defence. Her reward for this method of pest control is to have her kids taken away from her and making her jump through impossible hoops to get them back. It’s strange to know that governments hating women and poor people is a universal construct. She’s punished for keeping in touch with her kids. They actually tell her not to contact her children and if she does it affects her chances of getting them back. So her kids have to feel ignored. One of her kids is severely disabled, and the mother is told to ignore her and never contact her, even on her birthday. How do you think that makes them all feel? That is not the better option, it’s bureaucratic bullshit. The social workers who are supposed to help her aren’t actually helping her. They say they are but it’s all empty platitudes. You can tell this by the fact that they take her kids somewhere and don’t tell her. Leading to this:
“You gave my children away and didn’t tell me”
“I’m sorry you feel like that”.
No, that’s not how she feels, that’s what happened. This is how society works in this world and it’s inhumane. The way they treat the daughter isn’t best for her either. They don’t seem to talk to her directly, they aim questions at other people and get them to answer for her, denying her any agency.
The fact that this film genuinely enraged me is a testament to how believable the writing is. It’s almost perfect, the right mixture of pathos of humour. Crucially, the humour comes from the people, not the situation. There’s no “oh oh, we lost your kids, silly us. Road trip!”, it’s people in despair making jokes to reassure themselves. It’s all very human. The only negative to the script is her decision at the end of holding someone hostage at knifepoint is a bit out of tone for the film. In some ways it makes sense. But it just feels a little bit like they wanted to add unnecessary drama at the end. That section would be great as a whole film though, spread it out to 90 minutes and you’ll have a really intense drama. But for it to come at the end of this particular narrative falls a bit flat.
The performances are great throughout. Essie Davis is almost unrecognisable from her role in The Babadook. Thomasin Mckenzie is completely different from Last Night In Soho. There she seemed like an adult, a naive one, but one you can still imagine pays her bills on time. Here she seems almost childlike and incredibly innocent. She’s not as crucial to the narrative as the pre-release media made me think she’d be, but she is still very good.
So yeah go watch this. Just prepare a nice cup of tea for afterwards to calm down. You’re going to need it.