Little Woods – Recap/ Review (with Spoilers)

Tessa Thompson and Lily James in the film Little Woods.
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Little Woods may sell you on the idea of a bi-racial sisterhood, but it’s more so about critiquing the American health system vs. what Canada offers and the illegal market the discrepancy creates.


Director(s) Nia DaCosta
Screenplay By Nia DaCosta
Date Released Currently Doing Festival Circuit
Genre(s) Crime, Drama
Noted Actors
Ollie Tessa Thompson
Deb Lily James

Summary

Off in North Dakota, where opportunities are few and support is limited, Ollie is slowly watching her world come apart. After being caught smuggling prescription medication over the border, there went her major source of income that allowed her to keep up the payments on her adopted mother’s home. Leading her to not only have to deal with the house being foreclosed but also wondering what to do about her sister Deb? Someone who is pregnant, for the second time, and with her barely making it now, in a trailer she just moved into, after someone abandoned it, just as Ollie is planning to leave town and start over, it seems the only way to take care of everything is to pick up where she left off. Which, with only a week or two left of probation, means she is risking a lot to make sure her sister, and nephew, could potentially live comfortably.

Other Noteworthy Facts & Moments

  • The film was shot over the course of 27 days.
  • Tessa Thompson discovered the film after it was selected to be workshopped by the Sundance Institute and while she wasn’t originally thought of for her part, as it was workshopped, she convinced first-time director/writer Nia DaCosta to have her be in it.
  • It was one of the first films chosen for the festival.
  • More noteworthy facts in the video below the Overall Impression.

Question(s) Left Unanswered

  1. Why did their mother adopt the both of them? Also, what were their biological families like?
  2. How is life for Ollie being one of the few Black people, if not person of color in general, in North Dakota?
  3. There seems to be some favoritism, in terms of how their mom treated Ollie, what did that stem from?
  4. Did their mom have a father figure for them in their life or was it all just mom?

Collected Quote(s)

“Your choices are only as good as your options are.”

Highlights

Thompson and James’ Chemistry

As noted below, the background of Ollie and Deb is a bit sidestepped. Something which does come off unfortunate at times, but the interaction between Thompson and James fills in the blanks. For with Deb seeming like the screw up who Ollie had to keep looking out for, and Ollie being momma’s favorite, you come to understand their dynamic. Especially with Ollie’s texts being ignored, Deb seemingly only responding when borderline desperate, and how, when their mom was dying, Deb was nowhere to be found.

With this, you see Thompson really push James, if not push your perception of James, beyond Cinderella, Baby Driver or her role in Downton Abbey. For while she still plays someone sort of sweet and naive, there is this sense of struggle that is very well and mixed in with Deb’s desperation for a better life, she ups her game to keep up with Thompson. Who truly is such a driving force, that it would be hard to imagine this movie without her.

Criticism

Many Of The More Curious Aspects Of The Film Is Side-Stepped

As noted in the “Question(s) Left Unanswered” section, some of the things you may find interesting, perhaps a hook, aren’t addressed. Be it, why did their mom adopt the both of them[note]The director noted in the Q&A both characters were adopted[/note]? What’s it like for Ollie to be one of the few Black people in the area? What got her into smuggling drugs? And then, of course, there are the Deb questions.

Such as, was Ian, her son’s father, the one that got her into drugs? Considering she is trying to get into college, how will she pay for it, take care of her son, and deal with her other responsibilities? Why was her relationship with her mom and Ollie so sour? To the point of, rather than living in a house, living in an abandoned trailer in a supermarket parking lot? The absence of covering these things, among many other questions you’ll have, leaves a more lasting mark than what gets focused on.

On The Fence

The Trojan Horse Effect

What the film boils down to is how difficult it is to make ends meet and how few, if any, services are provided within the state of North Dakota. Especially in terms of quality health care. Leading to how, with Canada right there, it fosters an illegal market for drugs and the pursuit of services. Of which, for those like Ollie, they make a bit of a business with it.

Then, in terms of those like Deb, who are told to have a kid would cost $8,000+ without insurance, it pushes you to understand why they would risk so much for anything from pills to health services. I mean, one-character states that, just hoping to have his foot looked at, it takes waiting at a hospital more than 7 hours. Then, in terms of Deb trying to make a decision about her kid, she’ll have to wait weeks to see a doctor.

Thus leading to a film which sort of feels like a Trojan Horse. You may start off drawn to the idea of trying to see these two women reconcile with one another and attempt to save their mother’s house, but that isn’t what this film is truly about. What it is really about is a criticism of North Dakota and America’s health care system that is unable to provide essential assistance for anything from a weird looking foot to assisting expecting mothers in either prenatal care or alternative options.

Overall: Mixed (Divisive)

Don’t get me wrong, the healthcare topic isn’t going to ruin the film for you. If anything, it’ll just feel like one of the weaker options for the path this movie could have taken. For with the dynamic between Thompson and James so strong, exploring their sisterhood would have been more interesting. Taking note of how much of a hustler Ollie is, and the state of Deb’s life, exploring what led them to take their diverging paths would have been more interesting. That’s on top of so many other storylines besides a critique on how terrible the American health care system is.

Hence the mixed label. Be it personal preference or just feeling a bit duped into a lackluster storyline, there came a point where, I paid attention enough to follow along, but I was checked out. I’m talking, if it wasn’t for knowing the actors and director were in the same room, I would have checked my phone to see when this would be over. Much less, if it wasn’t for the Q&A, I would have been out when the credits hit and just chalked this up as a loss in terms of the price to get in and out of the city.


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 Q&A After Screening

How Would You Rate This?

Negative Mixed Positive