FOUR STARS North Dakota is a hard place to live, especially when you're poor, single and a woman.
Lily James, Tessa Thompson
This ripper from first time writer director Nia DaCosta has echoes of both WINTER’S BONE and (to a lesser extent) THE HANDMAID’S TALE in a straight forward account of two sisters - one on parole for drug dealing, the other living in a caravan with her young son - trying to side-step a system stacked against them. They’re living in the aftermath of the GFC where unreliable work and escalating costs has them trapped in a poverty cycle. Smuggling medication across the border from Canada (HANDMAID’S nirvana) got Ollie in trouble in the first place. One last run might finally get her, and sister Deb, out of trouble for good.
DaCosta subverts expectation, which is one of LITTLE WOODS’ many great pleasures. Her story seldom goes where you would think which affords her the opportunity to make a number of political observations such as the punishing cost of unaffordable health care, social inequity, the burden of underemployment and the opiate epidemic among others. Heavy stuff but then, this is no lightweight film.
Of course, this would be nothing if not for the terrific presence of its leads Tessa Thompson and Lily James (BABY DRIVER). In their hands, the fraught, complex and often fearful relationship between the sisters is always credible, as are their actions; given the circumstances the pair find themselves in, that they’d turn to running drugs across the border is not only believable, you believe it’s their only option.
The right to abortion is one of the film’s central planks and recent changes in the state of Alabama that shockingly restrict women’s rights only makes LITTLE WOODS resonate even more strongly. This is a film of its time, one that tackles significant issues that few others dare talk about. It puts Thompson and James on the map, and kick-starts DaCosta’s career.