Imogen Poots never disappoints.
Whatever role she takes, whichever indie film project engages her passion, her signing on the dotted line always makes for a fascinating peek into an gritty world beyond most of our experience.
“Mobile Homes” joins “Sweet Virginia,” “A Country Called Home,” “Green Room” and and “Frank & Lola” among her recent walks on the down and out side. She plays Ali Dresden, a mom with a decade or more of ongoing bad decisions making her fear for the future of her little boy (screen newcomer Frank Oulton).
When we meet her, she’s at social services on the wintry day on the Canadian plains. She’s trying to place her eight or nine year old son in foster care.
“We don’t have one.”
She won’t admit to “abuse or neglect,” so the social worker’s hands are tied. And as she storms out, the receptionist says “Your kid just left.”
“He knows how to get home.”
“Home” is where the ancient Chevy van is. With boyfriend Evan (her “Green Room” co-star Callum Turner), who adopted Bone or so she says, they live on the road and on the run — cheap motels, breaking into empty houses and squatting, “dine and dash” meals at diners, transporting fighting cocks to the hinterlands where entertainment is scarce and fighting roosters, illegal or not, are valued.
Bone covets one rooster he keeps as a pet, shaving him for fights and generally learning the ropes from Evan, who never met a scam or hustle he didn’t like.
Ali is smitten, even if she knows that Evan’s bad news, that any given “Go check my brake lights” order could mean he’ll ditch her and leave them in the lurch. A kid needs more care than they’re giving him, but Evan just sees the boy as a gimmick for starting a cock fight, a decoy for their “dine and dash” adventures and a “safe” way of selling drugs to the truckers, farmers, drunks and low-lifes who show up for cock fights.
A police raid separates the “family,” and Ali and Bone make their escape hiding out in a manufactured house being delivered to the middle of nowhere. Grizzled truck driver and trailer park handyman Robert (Callum Keith Rennie) is furious at their stowing away, but sympathetic to a woman with a child. Could this be their second chance?
There’s a whiff of “The Florida Project” to writer-director Vladimir de Fontenay’s (“Memoria”) depiction of a free-range kid, making his own fun, making his own way and making us fear for the neglect or ill use that threatens his future and his very life. Young Oulton makes Bone introverted, a child who doesn’t know what he should fear and what could happen every time he grabs a fighting chicken the wrong way, dashes out of the van mid-fight or works a room with a bag of drugs to sell. It’s a guileless performance which gives us a taste of the life Bone might live when he finally gets to play with kids his own age.
Turner makes Evan manic, impulsive, potentially violent and predatory, with barely the native cunning needed to survive like this. He plays with the boy, but only to keep him happy and useful to him.
“We’ll just use Bone when we need’em.” Handing him dime bags, he flatters the boy with his new drug dealing responsibility — “This is big boy stuff!”
He is drooling malevolence, but we kind of get what Ali sees in him. Poots lets us see the desperation in her, the judgment that vanishes from her face whenever her man gives her a look or makes his move — in the van, motels or motel pools.
And Rennie gives Robert an edge, too, a randy redneck who might not be all that noble after he’s had a few drinks. He makes a good tour guide and salesman for the trailers her transports when Ali mocks them as “Playmobil houses.”
“It’s a house. A home is what you build inside of it.”
Director de Fontenay has a great eye for detail — filling “Mobile Homes” with inside cock-fighting particulars and manufactured housing factory work, roadhouses and after hours “clubs” where the chicken fighting takes place.
And Poots, as always, makes a vivid impression of a fearful, impulsive woman playing out her string, pausing only now and then to consider how the consequences of her actions (predictable though they are) aren’t just something she will face. There’s a little boy growing up too fast, too wrong, too dangerously for the risks she’s taking not just with her freedom and life, but his as well. Poots makes Ali’s choices, impulsive to the last, gritty and believable, even when we can see what she cannot — how badly this all could end.
MPAA Rating: unrated, violence, drugs, sex, profanity
Cast: Imogen Poots, Callum Turner, Frank Oulton, Callum Keith Rennie
Credits:Written and directed by Vladimir de Fontenay. An Uncork’d Entertainment release.
Running time: 1:45