The is something of Alice Hyatt of Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Any More in Ray Eddy (Melissa Leo) of Courtney Hunt's Frozen River. Less drama, yet the same strength and power of endurance. Take two single moms, fighting poverty, discrimination and racism, make them strong and fearless and throw them into a harsh winter, living in shabby house trailers, a few days before Christmas. This is not a Frank Capra Christmas kind of picture, with happy families gathered around the Christmas tree, singing carols and waiting for angels to earn their wings, this is real life- where Christmas is another empty day, with nothing to offer and much to lose.
Meet Ray Eddy, mother of two boys, struggling to make ends meet and buy a double-wide trailer; that gambling-addicted husband of hers took the family savings and left for Atlantic City, leaving his car behind. Ray finds the car at the hands of Lila Littlewolf (Misty Upham), a Mohawk young woman working at a bingo parlour. Together, they strike an unusual partnership and the car is the perfect means of transportation to traffic illegal immigrants from Canada into the United States across the frozen St. Lawrence River. Their initial need for money grows into an unexpected friendship and when they find themselves in a crisis, they both turn out to be generous, good-hearted women who value motherhood and second chances most.
Both Melissa Leo (21 Grams, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada) as Ray and Misty Upham as Lila, a relative new comer with a reputation of television and independent films, give excellent performances. They turn the story from social drama into a tale of moral complexity. Frozen River is not only about fighting impoverishment or depicting the hardships of immigration, it is more about developing the two women's relationship and their broken lives. Ray and Lila cannot afford to be anything but mothers, femininity is a luxury beyond their reach -Ray keeps buying bubble bath salts for the jacuzzi she cannot afford- and perseverance and lack of perspectives is what keeps them running. However, don't expect a Thelma ans Louise kind of friendship where pretty ladies hit the road and choose their end; these winter women don't say much to one another, yet feel each other's pain and stick together.
There is a poor, biased America at the end of the rainbow that fails to shine in Hollywood golden letters. Its tears roll quietly on the wrinkled cheeks of its women who know only poverty, worry, unhappiness, lousy jobs and discriminating looks. Frozen River is a movie about the unpleasant, yet genuine lives of these women warming the harsh wintry landscape with their good hearts. Balleting on thin ice is what Courtney Hunt promises us to watch in her movie and she stays true to her word.