A mother sits across from her son stuffing his face with scraps and contemplates the insane force of love found in the parable of Solomon. The story of one mom denying ownership of her child to spare them a vicious royal halving is something everyone on this planet has heard and dismissed. Neat, tidy morality packaged for children. What possible use does it have in the harsh mathematics of daily life?
Towards the end of Mobile Homes, when the Sunday schooling starts to slip from the lips of Imogen Poots, you must fight the eye-roll that’s triggered. She’s a child herself, and Solomon is the only remaining tool in her arsenal. Writer/director Vladimir de Fontenay has challenged your empathy up until this point, and the script might have left you off the hook if not for the staggering heartache of its lead actress. To deny Poots would be a repulsive judgment on your character.
For the last hour and a half, the film has confined its audience to the wandering destitute misery of young mom Ali (Poots), her dismal upbringing of 8-year-old Bone (Frank Oulton), and her catastrophe-seeking boyfriend (Callum Turner). This trilogy of terror survives on sheer momentum, where every decision is a last-ditch effort and succeeds only because there is run-time left to fill. Just another batch of poverty-porn players.
Ali never wanted this child, but she also did not have the smarts or the family to eject Bone from her tornado of poor decisions. From birth, he’s been one of the gang, an instrument to dine and ditch, sell drugs, and maintain monstrous roosters for cockfights. Maneuvering through a gauntlet of dangerous circumstances and individuals can only amount to a cold calculation, but having not done the work the family fails to find the obvious summation of despair. They just keep going where others might have found a bridge to jump off.
The title of the film comes into play when one of those inevitable close calls with violence forces Ali and Bone to escape into the back of a mobile home on the move. For the first time in her life, Ali experiences the possibility of normalcy under the guidance of Robert (Callum Keith Rennie), a builder of cookie-cutter domiciles that offers her a job and a roof over her head. When he refuses to accept her usual form of payment, Ali finally considers the future for herself and Bone. Such fanciful notions are terrifying and infectious, forcing her to contemplate the story of Solomon and choices that might benefit Bone over her own wants and desires.
De Fontenay may be paying tribute to the lost in America, showcasing the future we all face as the wealth around us circles the wagons and readies for war. Or he could just be putting our feet to the fire, antagonizing a nation of petulant children trapped in an existence impossible to escape. Ultimately, I’m not that interested in what is driving his art. Poots is the reason we’re willing to suffer the hell we all know is out there and are desperate to ignore.
Mobile Homes allows Poots to smash against every possible human experience. Jumping from one moment to the next, we can rage alongside Ali, shield ourselves from her depravity, fall into her void of hopelessness, and sigh in her brief moments of relief. Ali is an exasperating character, required by her existence to embrace extremity, and as such, she is compulsively watchable. Poots propels herself from the big to the small and back again; a lesser performer could cause (e)motion sickness.
Poots has never disappointed in her performances, but we’re still waiting for her to break through to the mainstream and get her blockbuster spotlight. She deserves better than the girl in Fright Night and That Awkward Moment. With films like Mobile Homes, Frank and Lola, and Green Room, Poots has firmly established her footing in the field, and I’m ready to start sending out Fan Club subscriptions. Let’s not waste her on the rote.