Posted September 17, 2008 in Film

Dakota Fanning’s critics call her synthetic, a child actress so astounding, she must have been made by aliens or robots. But in Deborah Kampmeier’s sodden southern gothic, Fanning’s the one thing that’s explosively human. Playing a barefoot backwoods primitive—a gorgeous, wild-haired girl destined for disaster—Fanning’s Lewellen is the sexually charged daughter of a missing mamma and a boozehound (David Morse); her hobbies are playing doctor and playing Elvis. She shimmies like a star, despite her pious grandma (Piper Laurie, resurrecting Carrie’s mother) warning “Stop that shakin’ or you gonna get yourself in an awful lot of trouble.” Like Lolita, Lewellen knows her looks are a catalyst—of what exactly, she’s unsure. But when we look at her, we flash forward and see her swaybacked from six kids and drunk. Kampmeier uses so much Garden of Eden imagery she must mistakenly think she invented the cliché. But as Fanning endures getting draped in snakes and that scene (underplayed out of fear of prigs and pedophiles), we’re awestruck by her performance even as the film, with its magical Negros, swimming holes, dead pets, and lightening attacks, sputters through yet another parade of miseries without meaning. The only lesson is that if you’re a child of the south, you better get yourself adopted by Yankees. Still, an undercurrent of class snobbery, while hardly news, is nicely played—particularly upon the entrance of a white taffeta-clad baby belle named Grasshopper (Isabelle Fuhrman, who steals Lewellen’s sweetheart, and a scene where Afemo Omilami tells Fanning that, unless she fends off her attackers, she’ll always be a black man like him. When he presses her to find her voice by singing “Hounddog” her way, in a ragged, it’s a beautiful moment of Blues. (Amy Nicholson)



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