Who’s In It: Dakota Fanning, David Morse, Piper Laurie, Robin Wright Penn, Afemo Omilami
The Basics: Dakota Fanning finds out the hard way that it’s tough to be a 1950’s Southern “white trash” stereotype, what with her “Grammie” waving a Bible around and being mean to her non-stop and forbidding her to have male friends; her drunken redneck Daddy getting struck by lightnin’ and losin’ his mind; having to live in a grimy shack and never wear shoes; being constantly teased by a Mystery Mommy who pops up from time to time for no other reason than to act like someone who didn’t get the part in the community theater production of Cat on A Hot Tin Roof; terrorized by dozens of symbolic snakes all writhing around; and realizing that her idol Elvis doesn’t actually care about her after all.
What’s The Deal: In addition to all of the above, this is the movie where Dakota Fanning’s character gets raped by a slimy teenage milkman. Perhaps you’ve already heard about this. If not, then this is the movie where that happens. They made a big deal out of it at Sundance, where the air is thin and people care about that kind of thing. Anyway, the filmmakers put lots of acne makeup on the young actor’s face so that you can guess in advance that he’s the rapist. And sadly, that media-genic but unpleasant 60-second sequence may overshadow the fact that the other 90 minutes are the most laugh-filled rotten movie of 2008.
Tropic Thunder Connection: Remember that bit in that movie that caused people to protest the use of the word “retard?” The bit that was, in actuality, satirically mocking films that exploit the subject of Down Syndrome? Well, after David Morse gets his brains scrambled by lightning and his hair blown out like a Nick Nolte mugshot, this is the movie the TT screenwriters could very well have had in mind. Be sure to stay for the scene where he and Fanning have a squealing/screaming/crying contest. Everybody wins.
Dakota Fanning’s Career Crush-O-Meter Rating: 2 out of 10. She’s her usual unusually talented self, maintaining a straight face throughout. So dignified, that kid. And because it’s a limited-release movie, most people won’t even see it, so she’s certain to spring back from it easily. And frankly, if director Deborah Kampmeier’s career suffers because of this then I’ll be upset. She needs to keep making unhinged, self-important “drama” like this. America is a sad place right now and we need comedy.
Jill Scott Fan? Then Be Warned: She shows up for about two minutes as real-life blues belter Big Mama Thornton, the original singer of “Hounddog.” And then she’s gone. When she popped up on screen I was like, “Oh, that’s Jill Scott. I like her. Maybe she’ll become Dakota’s friend or something,” because, you know, it’s not like anything else that happens in this movie makes much sense, so why not have the child befriend Big Mama Thornton? But that doesn’t happen. I never get what I want.