As Hollywood grows more diverse and inclusive we’re seeing familiar stories told from new perspectives. In the past few years, a bevy of filmmakers released coming-of-age dramas about marginalized Americans. And French director, Vladimir de Fontenay, is getting in on the action. His new picture, Mobile Homes, tells a sombre story about a wayward mother and son drifting through rural America.
Ali (Imogen Poots) is a young mother who is shacking up with her long-term boyfriend Evan (Callum Turner) – can you call it shacking up if they don’t have a place? Ali and Evan don’t have jobs and they’re not looking for any either. They get by drifting from place to place and committing crimes to make ends meet. More often now, Evan uses Ali’s son Bone (Frank Oulton) in his crooked schemes. Evan involves Bone in everything from dining and dashing to dealing drugs.
When Evan’s almost gets Bone busted by a SWAT team Ali decides she’s had enough, leading to an explosive fight. To escape Evan, Ali and Bone stow away in a mobile home. They wake up the next morning in a trailer park miles from where they started. Well out of Evan’s reach, Ali realizes this new community may be her best shot at turning her life around.
Ali is a hot mess if I ever saw one and Poots does a wonderful job inhabiting the character. De Fontenay’s script does a poor job fleshing out the whole cast but Ali is the most glaring problem. We never learn Ali’s backstory and her motivations remain vague. When the character makes important decisions they feel arbitrary. All we know for sure is that she’s a lousy person. Poots brings a warmth and charm to Ali that doesn’t exist on the page. It speaks to Poots skill as an actor that she somehow keeps the audience from turning on a character that is such a foul human being.
I first noticed Turner last year in a sneaky-good crime flick called Tramps. Turner’s magnetism carried the film and in Mobile Homes, he’s doing it again, this time crackling with mischievous energy. Evan is an explosive cocktail of sex, danger, and charm and we get why Ali puts up with such a sketch-bag. Turner takes what’s on the page and runs with it. After watching his gleefully sleazy performance in Mobile Homes, I am intrigued by the thought of watching him in a Safdie brothers’ picture.
Cinematographer Benoit Soler’s visuals go a long way towards creating Mobile Homes’ gloomy and desolate atmosphere. The film uses a grimy, washed-out colour palette, giving harsh rural landscapes an inhospitable look. Layers of snow and ice smother every rooftop, road, and field, as though daring spring to show its hopeful face. This drab winter wasteland visually represents Ali’s sense of being lost, hopeless, and directionless. It’s as though she has fallen down a well she can’t climb out of. When Matthew Otto’s sparse melancholic score kicks in it drives these woeful feelings home further.
Mobile Homes is of a piece with a new breed of coming-of-age stories, one where central figures are emotionally stunted adults. The obvious comparison is Sean Baker’s The Florida Project, a story about a rebellious mother and her mischievous child. A better comparison may be Andrea Arnold’s American Honey. Like American Honey, Mobile Homes focuses on young adults with their own take on the American dream. They don’t care about two-car garages, white picket fences, and saving for retirement. This new generation is nomadic and won’t hesitate to break laws to get what they want. Viewed together, these films paint an eye-opening portrait of disenfranchised young people who live on the fringes of society.
Mobile Homes offers an unflinching look at America’s new underclass. Benoit Soler captures a gritty and textured world for de Fontenay’s underwritten characters to inhabit. Poots and Turner’s noble performances build on Mobile Homes’ weak script but don’t add enough to make this cold, bleak, and dreary film more enjoyable to watch.
- Release Date: 4/20/2018