Melissa and Richie have a pretty humble existence. They live in a motel room. He’s disabled, she works at a gas station where she’s stalked by her drug-dealing ex-boyfriend. It’s a charmless kind of life, dictated by poverty. It’s kind of dismal, but they have each other, and when they learn there’s a baby on the way, suddenly everything seems possible.
Unexpected pregnancy on a minimum wage salary is not my idea of “good luck” but when Melissa loses her job and she and Richie get evicted from their home, the good days are clearly behind them. The cycle of poverty’s got a pretty nasty pull on them, and in many ways this feels like a companion piece to The Florida Project, though this one’s already five years old.
The Florida Project’s a little more palatable to watch. Told from the perspective of children, the poverty feels less oppressive, or at least it’s more optimistic. In this one, however, Melissa (Naomi Watts) and Richie (Matt Dillon) are middle-aged. They’ve made their choices. There doesn’t seem to be much room for second chances.
Naomi Watts is incredible in almost everything she’s in. The problem here is not the acting, but that the acting can’t possibly do much with a sometimes remarkably stilted script. Despite some empathetic performances, the script has zero uplift. It’s tough to watch, though it is a tribute to an experience authentic to too many Americans. Watts and Dillon may be mis-cast. I hate how work dries up for aging actresses, but the fact is, she’ll be 50 this year, so she’s hardly in fertile young American territory anymore. There are loads more people who’d be far more appropriate.
Still, nothing’s really going to make this movie great. It has good intentions but can’t quite connect emotionally. It’s tedious, gray, and doesn’t care to resolve any of the adversity encountered: tragic in many sense of the word.