This is the story of three young girls who live in squaller with their strung-out, prostitute mother and a lineup of pimps, hookers, and johns parading through their home and lives. They attempt to maintain some sense of normality in their day-to-day but are ultimately seeking escape.
This film wishes badly to be a gritty tale of a life of immeasurable trials that three girls, none older than fourteen, should never face; which it is on paper. Writer/Director Lori Petty has based this film on “true events” but has some trouble with her manner of portraying what should be a candid look into a twisted upbringing. There is an imbalance in the characters’ emotions that makes it harder for one to be immersed in the story.
The situations are often bleak and yet the characters, mostly the three sisters, are smiling for different reasons throughout. They all exude this odd confidence in the face of abnormal or destitute situations which is often played for some sort of laugh, especially in scenes featuring co-writer David Allen Grier. While I admit that it can be refreshing to see a “realistic” story about poverty be told without a straight face, it does kind of violate much of my expectations considering the sort of set-ups there are for many of the tenser scenes. The playfulness that is injected into the conflicts do not properly build the structure needed to face the enormous climax, which features the oldest sister facing the worst the “Poker House” (her home) has to offer, including drugs, booze, and weapons. The most explosive of all is the very uncomfortable, pedophilic romance this girl has with her mother’s pimp. It is the subject of the film’s most tender narration, as well as a recurring Issac Hayes soundtrack that spells sexy romance…but it’s between a predatory pimp and a teenager which ends unsurprisingly in disaster.
There are some good performances in this film, particularly notable is Jenny Lawrence as the oldest sister. Selma Blair seems to be doing well as the mother but her perpetual staggering and slurring borders on campy when juxtaposed against both her children’s optimism and the dark moments when the low-lifes come by her home. She seems to be adrift amongst them all and it is hard to pin-point whether we are to be amused by her or to be afraid. At the same time, the directing is competent, each shot being well thought out, and the writing perfectly decent, which helps the actors immensely when faced with some challenging scenes.
Anamorphic Widescreen 16:9. The quality is not terribly clear. I do not believe it was shot on digital but the grainy visual seems as if it might have been. Otherwise, the colours and tones look pretty good, a nod to the art direction on the film.
Dolby Digital 5.1 surround as well as 2.0. Even though the funky music chosen may seem inappropriate for the film at times, it sounds great. The dialogue is also quite clear. There are no real problems with the sound quality.
Subtitles available in Spanish.
Trailer: For the film.
Photo Gallery: A collection of pictures showing the making of the film. An acceptable substitute for a behind-the-scenes featurette. All set to a boisterous blues tune.
Writer/Director Commentary: Lori Petty gives her thoughts on the production. She is quite peppy and offers an abundance of compliments towards the cast and crew along with her factoids and tidbits.
Lori Petty makes it perfectly clear that she IS that oldest sister in the film. With this in mind, it is hard to criticize the story, but one can certainly wonder about the decision to lighten the tone, thanks largely (I suspect) to the inclusion of comedian Grier as a writer. There is a strange conflict between the optimism and the horrors within the film that is not properly resolved. Having the three sisters singing along with their car stereo at the end only further confuses my feelings as it is a scene that takes place after the darkest moments in the entire film and might be a bit too light-hearted and jubilent considering rape has occurred not 15 minutes prior (a warning for which appears on the DVD case). Audience members may find themselves likewise confused by the film as a whole but will hopefully find some sparkling moments within it to enjoy, as they are certainly there.