An impressive Imogen Poots is unable to place this derailing drama back on track.
A house is what you buy; a home is what you make. For Imogen Poots’ struggling young mother, the beating heart of Vladimir de Fontenay’s icy family drama, Mobile Homes, it is a sorry series of drifting environments. An entry in the Directors’ Fortnight here in Cannes, the film is inspired by a sight which startled the writer-director – a sprawling property being towed on an upstate New York highway. A shame then, that the finished project fails to maintain any sense of inspiration, rather succumbing to frustration and underdevelopment.
Poots – ever the impressive English Rose – plays Ali, a twenty-something matriarch, who slinks from one dive to another, partnered with her aggressive yet intoxicating boyfriend, Evan (Callum Turner). The pair make short change by illegally trafficking, and dealing animals (namely roosters for fighting), and struggle day-to-day to provide for Ali’s young son, Bone (Frank Oulton). Evan takes cruel advantage of his non-blood relation to Bone, often dragging him into sordid criminal activities. Soon enough, one step is taken too far, causing mother and child to flee in crisis. The uncertainty is palpable, and remains so throughout their interstate journey.
Working from his own screenplay, Parisian director de Fontenay successfully builds a textured character with Ali. She has definition and development, and Poots carries her heavy baggage with content. It is a naked performance; one void of glamour or hope, and enables the actress to become submerged in a world of makeshift options. Mobile Homes‘ finest scenes are its quietest; the growling rumble of the transportable home upon the frosty streets, Ali’s breath upon plastic windows the only thing of warmth in sight. There is physicality in the silence, and we as the audience find our connection strongest here.
What the film struggles to maintain however is a consistent pattern of care. Neither Evan, nor Bone, have the emotional palette or nuance to sustain across the 105 minute runtime, and their respective dialogue arrangements are feeble at best. Such attention is paid to its star that those surrounding her fail to ever really shimmer in the dusty spotlight.
Tonally Mobile Homes is scrappy, too. It has major inconsistencies throughout acts, and wobbles along transitional story strands. The first act is strongest, the final weakest, and the one in the middle simply meanders. By the time Evan makes his inevitable return, patience and ultimately pathos, has worn thin. Equally, the titular properties, and major focal point of the developmental drama, are without full examination or detail; rather a dull, empty box.
That’s not to say de Fontenay’s festival offering is without any merit, however. It benefits from sleepy cinematography, lensed with glacial beauty by Beniot Soler, and is punctuated by rhythmic editing; paired kindly with Matthew Otto’s solemn score. Disappointing then, that the narrative is unable to match the sincerity of its supporting aesthetic.
Mobile Homes is up for sale upon the Croisette, and will likely make for a smart purchase – it is a healthy vehicle for Poots’ abilities after all – but the panels shake, the windows creak, and the roof leaks…