I bought "The Poker House" because it featured two of my favorite young actors, Jennifer Lawrence and Chloe Grace Moretz, in a 2008 film before they were famous.
Lawrence, who was 17 when this film was shot, plays barely 14-year old Agnes, the daughter of an emotionally-twisted, drug/ alcohol-addicted, prostitute-mother portrayed by the wonderful Selma Blair.
Moretz, who must have realistically been around 11 years old, is one of Agnes' sisters, Cammie. Sadly underutilized, Moretz has little to do in the story other than sit at a bar and trade non sequiturs with an alcohol-addled, delusional and paranoid barfly (David Alan Grier).
Agnes, as the de facto manager of this house of ill repute, is infatuated with a black pimp (Bokeem Woodbine) who treats her nice with gentle kisses while beating and selling her strung-out mother. Finally, the pimp decides it's time for Agnes to join Mommy and he viciously attacks the 14-year old. The violation is painful and hard to watch, Especially difficult to observe is the reaction, or should I say nonreaction to this violation by her mother who later makes it clear she would die for her pimp.
The Lawrence character has a big basketball game on this night of the molestation, What is her pre-game ritual? Stretching and Gatorade? Hardly, she drinks alcohol, and smokes weed & cigarettes. Then there's that little incident concerning the (dare we say it?) rape.
The casual viewer might think Agnes wouldn't have the right mindset for this contest. Casting her fate to the wind, she shows up for the game, although it is well into the second half. Donning her metaphor-like Wonder Woman suit, she pours in 27 points in 7 minutes to steal the victory. Agnes is laying on the floor after making the final shot. The fans and her teammates convulse into hysterical celebration! Meanwhile, does anyone care to pick up Agnes and offer her thanks for winning the game with her super-human effort. Short answer: No. She walks out of the gym with nary a word said to her. Not realistic.
The basketball scenes were beyong not believeable. They were AWFUL. Plus, a body double was used for Lawrence during the more-athletic moves, a fact confirmed by director Lori Petty in a special features interview.
I didn't like the movie. Director Petty said she based this story on her real life experiences while growing up in Iowa. Petty probably told a mostly-honest and accurate story with a little embellishment thrown in to spice up the plot. I found the storyline sad and detestable, many of the characters despicable with the overall effect creating an emotion of depression. I realize that is not a credible critique of Petty's moving-making skill. It just left me feeling rather ill.
Blair and Lawrence were brilliant. Lawrencce, already showing signs of greatness two years before her Academy Award-nominated role in "Winter's Bone" won the Outstanding Performance Award at the Los Angeles Film Festival for this portrayal of a bright but abused 14-year old, Lawrence is, indeed, a wonder.