Maybe it’s not cool to wear woolen Winter whites before Labor Day, but doesn’t it feel great to breath an icy blast of serious drama on the first of August, a bracing early frost of Indie spirit as a solid head-start to the season? LATimes’ Mark Olsen raises the specter of the “Sundance Curse” but only so he can shoot it down like skeet:
It could be called the Sundance Curse. Year after year, films win the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival only to disappear instantly when they finally hit theaters. This year’s winner, “Frozen River,” is just the sort of modestly scaled, finely acted, deeply felt drama that the festival once built its name on — before the onset of hype, swag and buzz. Think of “Frozen River” as Sundance Classic…
While it may seem unlikely that the same audiences who turned out in droves for Carrie Bradshaw and Co. will also show up for a hardscrabble tale of two women trying to achieve their own simple, Manolo-free goals, “Frozen River” may nevertheless break the Sundance Curse. With a resolution that is inevitably heartbreaking and yet somehow affirmative, the film’s portrait of female friendship and struggle rings true.
The avalanche of impressive praise has been snowballing since Sasha’s first rave mid-week.
Richard Schickel, Time
Courtney Hunt is a spare writer and a very objective director. Her film is all show, no tell. It doesn’t whine or speechify or make liberal-minded, quasi-political appeals for relief of its characters’ hard lives. She lets us come to care for Ray at our own unforced pace, and Melissa Leo plays superbly in that patient vein. There’s nothing overtly heroic about her as she plods forward under her burden of her small-scale dreams. She’s not cynical, but she’s not expecting much, either. She’s just knowing and accepting of what fate, good or bad, but never transformative, throws at her. You can see it in her eyes, in her wiry body’s alertness to both danger and opportunity. The reserve in Leo’s performance, the way it earns our sympathy without asking for it is, is screen acting of the highest order. And her seeming artlessness is reflected, as well, in the rest of the no-name cast’s work.
Kennetn Turan, Los Angeles Times
AS THE summer heats up, let “Frozen River” wash over you; let its bracing drama and the intensity of its acting restore your spirits as well as your faith in American independent film.
As those who have seen more than their share can testify, the all-purpose independent label guarantees only a modest budget and sometimes not even that. “Frozen River,” however, is not only the deserved winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, it also beautifully illustrates what the movement is supposed to be about.
Stephen Holden, The New York Times
[Melissa] Leo‚Äôs magnificent portrayal of a woman of indomitable grit and not an iota of self-pity makes ‚ÄúFrozen River‚Äù a compelling study of individual courage. She brings the same kind of gravity to the role that Patricia Neal did to Alma Brown in “Hud” 45 years ago.
[Courtney] Hunt‚Äôs eye for detail has the precision of a short story writer‚Äôs. She misses nothing, not even the model of the car Ray drives (a Dodge Spirit) and the supper Ray serves one night when she is out of cash: popcorn and Tang.
Andrew O’Hehir, Salon
“Frozen River” isn’t cinematically ambitious or formally adventurous, but it’s built around powerful and nuanced performances by Leo, Upham and Charlie McDermott (as Ray’s teenage son, uncomfortably poised at the edge of manhood). Furthermore, it showcases a confident director who uses her characters to fill out an engaging, well-constructed plot, and you can bet Hollywood execs are paying attention. For better or worse, Hunt won’t be making low-budget indies for long. In person, she’s a poised and attractive woman with the pleasant, professional demeanor of a college president or a child psychologist. I met her at her Manhattan hotel. (Listen to the interview here.)