After losing her husband to cancer and amassing an ungodly amount of medical debt, Molly is forced to raise her son in her car and attempt to find a way out of homelessness all while never letting her son realise the severity of their circumstances.
The premise of this film alone is enough to stop many in their tracks and force them to contemplate the unsettling reality of how easily these circumstances could become theirs. Writer/director David Mandell underscores this frighteningly real and heartbreakingly common scenario by presenting it through the eyes of a homeless mother and son. Molly (Troian Bellisario pulling double duty as lead and producer) struggles frantically to find work while also shielding her son Ronnie (Kue Lawrence) from the terrifyingly bleak situation they find themselves in. Mandell’s ability to sell the premise is made possible in no small part due to the heart-warming chemistry of Bellisario and Lawrence, whose ‘mother & son on an adventure’ dynamic fuels their strength and hope as they struggle against the harsh realities of homelessness.
Troian Bellisario in particular, does a fantastic job of having to switch between loving mother/best friend and fierce protector, with a performance that tactically lets us in on the determination and desperation that she works so hard to hide from her son. Additionally, Kue Lawrence does a fantastic job of displaying both vulnerability and tear-inducing empathy. The two of them form a mother-son team that is easy to root for without making them perfect people. Molly drifts dangerously close to being overwhelmed and Ronnie exerts the impatience and inflexibility of a child who does not fully comprehend how limited their means are. Credit should be given to Mandell’s writing as he shows both the pros and cons of Molly’s refusal to share her emotional burdens and the full picture of just how bad things are with her son.
While the scope is narrowed to largely just the two characters, the film does well to depict a wide social landscape, from holding up signs by the roadside, to doctor’s offices, to avoiding the dangers of being unprotected on the city streets at night-time. A fairly broad social spectrum is on display throughout and is used to avoid clumsy exposition about how Molly and Ronnie came to be on the streets. Instead, their character history is revealed through natural and often heart-rending interactions that not only fill in the blanks but also push the story and character arcs forward.
If there is a running theme of this film, it is empathy. Molly and Ronnie are in the situation that they are in due to circumstances beyond their control. While aside from one heart-stopping moment, they are not treated badly, many of their difficulties stem from simply not being seen. Some of the most enduring moments in the film occur when people exercise their capacity for empathy and reach out in often unexpected but powerful ways, meeting Molly’s love-fuelled determination and strength halfway.
Like Turtles is a top tier acting and directing showcase with themes of struggle, determination, desperation and how far an act of kindness can go. A solid recommendation.
Studio: Blank Slate Pictures | Year: 2019 | Genre: Drama | Duration: 16 Mins | Suitability: Mature
Troian Bellisario, Kue Lawrence
Director: David Mandell | Producer: Troian Bellisario, Monet Clayton, Lorena Lourenço, Peter Vogel | Writer: David Mandell
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