Monday, March 18, 2013

12 Movie Lives we Don't Envy

Sometimes I think the majority of Hollywood is about letting its viewers live in a fantasy world where nerds can score, life can be wrapped up in a nice little package, and the women have bigger boobs and smaller waists. Here are some movies that offer grim, even terrifying glimpses into the lives of the less fortunate. Take a look ...

P.S. If this post is well received, I might consider writing a sequel.

1. Clareece 'Precious' Jones (Gabby Sidibe) in "Precious"
Nobody who watches this movie can forget the complete shittiness of Precious' life, where she has suffered neverending abuse from both her father and her mother. Mom Mary Jones (Mo'Nique) is every Republican's worst nightmare, a fat, lazy, abusive couch potato who never works and occasionally gets up from the couch to throw things at her equally overweight, bullied daughter, who by the beginning of the movie is pregnant for the third time with her father's baby. Funny how  some people are perfectly comfortable with white trash/white incest/rape/abuse stories, but as soon as a movie like "Precious" comes out, they cry racism. Maybe it's easier for some people to think that only white people have shit families.

2. Francis (Aidan Gillen) in "Buddy Boy"
Well, look at him. How insanely awkward can one character be? Well, Francis, not to be confused with Fiennes' killer in "Red Dragon," is a Catholic loner whose profound stutter is only paralleled by his pretty questionable hygiene. Living with his insane "stepmother" who -- we are to believe -- is was not a woman at all, makes poor Francis go pretty much nuts himself. Comforted and distracted by his Catholic faith and his masturbatory habits and, later, spying on his sexy neighbor across the street, Francis lives in the world's filthiest apartment, taking orders from said "stepmom."  But how long can such a person keep up believing in a God who wants only the best for them?  This movie is fucking insane and kind of brilliant in its own way, which is probably why I love it.

3. James (William Eadie) in "Ratcatcher"
"Ratcatcher" is one of the most unsettling portrayals of poverty I've ever seen. Young James (William Eadie) is left without a playmate when his friend Ryan drowns in the filthy canal. Living during the Glasgow garbage strike, James lives in a filthy apartment and becomes deeply depressed and guilt-ridden after Ryan's death, and he aspires for a better life in a world that doesn't offer many options. William Eadie gives one of the most underrated child performances, ever but the film is relentlessly glum and gritty.

4. Joseph & Hannah (Peter Mullan & Olivia Colman) in "Tyrannosaur"
Honest to God, I really think this is one of the best movies I've ever seen. Brutal, yes, but the story of a raging drunk and a beaten housewife (Mullan and Colman, respectively) is so compelling and powerful that I couldn't forget it even if I tried. Anyway, Hannah (Olivia Colman) lives in constant fear for her life because of her husband, James (Eddie Marsan), so a friendship with a vicious, bitter alcoholic (Peter Mullan) would be the last thing that you would expect to happen. But so it does. Both the leads give heartbreaking performances as people whose broken lives merge, and neither character is someone to envy.

5. Oskar & Eli (Kåre Hedebrant & Lina Leandersson) in "Let the Right One In"
For number five, I chose my second favorite movie of all time, Tomas Alfredson's poignant vampire film "Let the Right One In," which shows that childhood can be hell for an unfortunate few. Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), a pale, lonely twelve-year-old, is driven to desperation by a gang of bullies, while vampire Eli (Lina Leandersson) must live with the implications of what she has become. What are two lonely kids to do? Become best buds, which may have fatal repercussions for Oskar's tormenters. Life is hard for both kids, as Eli must live with her insatiable bloodlust and Oskar feels helpless to stand up to his victimizers.

6. Brandon & Sissy (Michael Fassbender & Carey Mulligan) in "Shame" 
Do not watch this film for the sex scenes or because you saw a screenshot of Michael Fassbender's dick online! "Shame," for all its sex and nudity, is about as titillating as the fried chicken scene out of "Killer Joe." First of all, nobody seems to be having much fun doing it, and secondly, Michael Fassbender and the people inhabiting his universe, are sad, pathetic characters, caught in a cycle of abuse and anguish. For those out of the know, Brandon is a sex addict and Sissy is his suicidal sister. The siblings seem a little closer than they should be, but there is no incest to speak of. Instead, Brandon goes around screwing everything with a vagina while making it clear that his sister, who has moved in, is not welcome. The movie is not my cup of tea, but it is very well made and acted.

7. Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) in "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
The thing that struck me most about "Beasts of the Southern Wild" was not the performances, not the fantastical realism, not the protagonist, but the grim poverty the characters lived in. I kept shaking my head and saying, "Americans really live like that?" Call me naive. Hushpuppy lives in the impoverished "Bathtub" of Louisiana with her Daddy, Wink. Her harsh surroundings and the fact that Wink is pretty much a child himself ensures that Hushpuppy's life would not be easy, but she faced her struggles with a mix of imagination and gritty determination. You've got to give her credit for that; it is more than many of us would have done.

8. Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) & her Siblings (Isaiah Stone & Ashlee Thompson) in "Winter's Bone"
Life is hard. Especially if your family are rednecks, your mother is crazy, and you and your siblings' entire future hangs in the balance because of your meth dealer father, who may or may not show.  That's what happens to the headstrong Ree Dolly when her dad, Jessup, places a bail bond on their house and promptly disappears. Family tensions run amok when Ree enlists the help of her volatile uncle Teardrop and tries to find her father before she and her brother and sister lose everything and the younger kids are handed off to foster care.


9. James Brocklebank (Leo Bill) in "The Living and the Dead" 
At the age where most men are dating, graduating from college, getting jobs, and acting on their sexual urges, James is stuck in his parent's crumbling mansion, watching his mother slowly die of cancer and being treated with contempt by his status-obsessed, elderly father. Why? Well, considering that James is seemingly both retarded and insane, his parents don't want him going out a fraternizing with people who might think ill of the Brocklebank lineage. So James is left doing, pretty much... nothing, until he gets a spectacularly bad idea that sets the following events in motion. But although James is the main aggressor in the film, he has it pretty hard too. Having a parent who is shamed by you can't be easy, and James knows that better than anyone. And yeah, as you might guess, that screenshot comes from a Lynchian hallucination scene halfway through the film.


10. The Kids (Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, Rubina Ali & Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail) in "Slumdog Millionaire"
I don't remember this movie very well, so bear with me. Even though anybody's life could use a Bollywood dance number somewhere along the way, that doesn't make Jamal's childhood any easier. Neither does Jamal's love interest's (Ali) or brother's (Ismail), as this so called 'inspirational' film takes a turn into abuse and poverty. But what do you expect from the guy who did "Trainspotting?"


 11. Aidan Murphy (Aidan Gillen) from "Treacle Jr."
Aidan's blessing is that he isn't capable of seeing all the darkness in his life. Sometimes I wish I could be a positive personality like him. Other than that, he isn't a character to envy. Aidan has had bad luck from the very beginning, when his umbilical cord got wrapped around his neck and did lasting damage, leaving him with retardation and a lisp. Since then the only thing more powerful than his bad luck is his naivete in the face of it. 40-something, unemployed, and bunking with a prostitute "girlfriend" who pockets his government checks and beats on him every now and again would drive any other man mad, but Aidan seems to be obliviously happy 90% of the time. Undeterred, he spends his time doing odd jobs and harmlessly harassing fellow Londoners, which often ends with him getting beat up. It is only when he meets runaway father Tom that his life starts to take a turn for the better.

12. The Prawns from "District 9"
Oppressed, abused, and forced by the government to live in filthy slums, the "Prawns" of the movie have been made to feel like monsters by the human race. Breaking down above South Africa by accident, the aliens soon found that earth was NOT the place to go for some old-fashioned hospitality, but by that time it was too late. To watch this movie is to look at our race and say to ourselves -- hey, we don't look so hot.


  1. Good choices! Though some of these people weren't in completely hopeless situations, like Hushpuppy for example - she was so resourceful!

    Damn Aidan Gillen has quite depressing taste in movie roles:)

  2. This was a really unique idea for a post! I often preferring watching films like you've mentioned, as opposed to your typical hollywood movie, although I usually like a happy ending.

    One of my favourite films is Requiem for a Dream, however, and that doesn't exactly end positively.

  3. Some very interesting choices here again. I must check out Buddy Boy. That's a few times I've heard you mention it. :-)

  4. This is an interesting read!
    I haven't seen any of them except for D-9 ... and I love how you describe each of them

  5. You were right to put Precious at number one haha. Poor girl!

  6. I am saving this post for the future since there are so many films on it that I haven't heard of like Tyrannasaur and Let the Right One In, which happen to be faves of yours!

    Winter's Bone is a good pick, as is Precious and the kids in the slums of India (I've seen these kids IRL and it is even more heartbreaking).

    I would have never thought of The Prawns in District 9, but I see your point!

    I would add the poor kids in The Hunger Games. Fighting to the death all in the name of entertaining the rich and powerful? Horrific. I also thought of the little boy in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

  7. I haven't seen quite a few of these but the ones I have are great choices. Lots of sad, poor people. Would love to see a sequel to this post of happy poor people to cheer me up!

  8. Awesome picks. I especially like the mentions of Precious, Shame, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Winter's Bone and Slumdog Millionaire. I wouldn't want to live their lives.


Hello, and thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts -- reader comments make this blogging gig worthwhile. :-) Due to excessive spam, we are now moderating all comments. Like that dude in the Monty Python skit, we just Don't ... Like ... Spam. I will try to post and respond to your comments as quickly as possibly.