Review: Little Woods

Lily James and Tessa Thompson in Little Woods

Little Woods puts you inside the lives of two sisters during a harrowing week in their always difficult existence.

First time director Nia DaCosta created a powerful portrait of women’s lives in Little Woods. Two single women struggle with situations demanding desperate choices. They live in a small town in North Dakota surrounded by men with good jobs and no options for women. Poverty governs their every decision.

A poster saying "Your choices are only as good as your options."

Ollie (Tessa Thompson) is living in her recently deceased mother’s home. She’s facing eviction and ignoring the warnings. She’s on probation for getting caught bringing drugs across the border from Canada. Just 9 more days and her probation will be over. She promises her P.O. Carter (Lance Reddick) that she’s applying for jobs in Spokane and going straight.

Deb (Lily James) and her son Johnny (Charlie Ray Reid) are squatting in a small travel trailer left abandoned in a parking lot. Deb is ignoring the notices saying the trailer will soon be hauled off at the owner’s expense.

Lily James and Tessa Thompson in Little Woods

The bank wants $6000 to let the sisters keep their mother’s house. Ollie, who can sell anything (not just drugs) convinces the bank to let them have a week to gather $3000 and pay out the rest in installments.

And . . . Deb’s pregnant. With no insurance, it costs about $8000-9000 to have a baby. The nearest abortion clinic is hundreds of miles away. Canada is closer but Deb doesn’t have a health card for Canada.

They need a roof overhead for the two of them and Johnny and somehow to end a disastrous pregnancy. The options the sisters have for making this happen are very few and definitely not easy or good.

Ollie’s the enterprising one, the smarter one, and the one who usually steps up to save every situation. She does it again here.

What they do is dangerous and illegal. When the week is over we don’t know if they succeeded 100% in their efforts to survive or not.

We like to glibly toss out phrases about how the situation for women is stacked against them, how options for employment, health care, and child care are anti-women. But this film isn’t just talking. It’s showing. It’s showing in powerful, touching, heartbreaking ways what an effort it takes just to survive a week as a woman.

Tessa Thompson and Lily James are good together. The sisters have contentious issues between them. They aren’t best friends. But they both love Johnny and know they have to find a way to keep from becoming homeless. Two two actors pull this off masterfully.

The world they live in is cold and muddy and hard. The home they need to save is a cluttered wreck, but it’s a haven. Director Nia DaCosta demonstrates the world surrounding them in effective and visually powerful shots.

I totally recommend Little Woods.

Poster for Little Woods

Little Woods is available on Amazon Prime and from a couple of other streamers.

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