The Poker House (Lori Petty, 2008): USA

Reviewed by Byron Potau.  Viewed at the Los Angeles International Film Festival

The Poker House from director Lori Petty is based on a true story, taking place in 1976, but it seems at times that it tries too hard to be real and at other times too hard to be cute.  The shifts from one to the other do not do the film any good either.

Centering on the eldest of three girls, fourteen year old Agnes (Jennifer Lawrence), and taking place in one eventful day, Agnes goes about what is a normal day for her, cleaning up the liquor bottles and other mess left around the house, telling her mother’s latest customer to leave before her sisters wake up, and making out with her mom’s pimp (Bokeen Woodbine) who, moments later, goes to smack her mother around until he gets his money.  Agnes is amused with making out with her mom’s pimp, but hardly realizes what the consequences of this might be.  Her mother, Sarah (Selma Blair), is either high or drunk and lets Agnes know that one day soon she will have to start earning her keep the way she does.  Agnes keeps herself distracted from the realities of her home, the poker house, by taking care of her sisters, reading poetry, doing her homework, and playing basketball, of which the big game is tonight and she is the school’s star player.  Her sisters fill out the film, with Bee (Sophia Bairley) doing her paper route and collecting bottles, and Cammie (Chloe Moretz) waiting in a bar for someone to pick her up.

The film has some powerful scenes, but seems to hit several false notes with some slightly pretentious dialogue, an annoying sing along by the three sisters to Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, and David Alan Grier, who also co scripted the film, hamming it up as a barfly who comes across like one of his In Living Color characters.  All of this greatly detracts from the serious scenes and hamper the overall feel of the movie as well as detracting from the performances.  The surprising revelation in the end is not enough to make this film a success.

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