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Film / Little Woods

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On the left, Deb. On the right, Ollie. In the middle, a whole lot of anxiety and secret crimes.

Little Woods is a 2018 movie directed by Nia DaCosta, starring Tessa Thompson and Lily James.

In North Dakota, biracial half-sisters Ollie (Thompson) and Deb Hale (James) have run into problems. Ollie has completed her probation following her arrest for drug dealing, but isn't making enough on selling coffee and meals to avoid the foreclosure on her home. Deb is pregnant again, and she and her son have nowhere to live out of their unregistered mobile home. With just a week left on their deadlines, the two hatch a plan to make up everything they owe in as little time as they can, even if it might take drugs, shady deals, and a risky trip across the Canadian border.


Little Woods contains examples of:

  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Deb has a dysfunctional relationship with her ex (and father of her son) Ian, as he claims to be caring but is also a criminal and prone to drinking. One day she blows up at him and throws his offered money to the ground, the next day she's cozy with him and tries to compassionately explain about her pregnancy.
  • Bookends: The film opens and closes with a shot of the border between North Dakota and Canada, the latter as the family crosses on the way back home.
  • Cover Identity Anomaly: Deb's plan to get an abortion involves a faked ID. When she has to flee the forgers and so doesn't get an ID with her picture, Deb has to settle for trying to mimic another women's ID. The secretary at the clinic catches the deception, but lets her pass anyway.
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  • Failed a Spot Check: When Ollie's probation officer makes a surprise visit, Ollie hastily crams all her drugs and money in her closet, hoping he won't bother to check. Not only does he not check, Ollie opening the closet door after he leaves causes all the drugs and cash to splatter on the floor.
  • Flashback Nightmare: Ollie's first scene is a dream of her remembering getting caught burying drugs.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Deb is conflicted about whether to have an abortion; having had her son Johnny has her sympathetic to bringing forth another child, but the expenses just for the pregnancy are much higher than she can afford. The closest abortion clinic (still miles away from home) is also surrounded by protesters. Subverted in that Deb ultimately goes through with it.
  • Happily Adopted: We don't see what Deb and Ollie's childhood was like, but from their accounts Ollie loved her adopted family and her dedication to it is why she continues living in her deceased mother's house.
  • Left Hanging: The story ends with Deb and Ollie's return trip back into America, and we don't see whether they got caught, if they paid their debts, and if they ran into any other troubles after that.
  • Love Confession: The last lines in the film are the sisters saying they love each other, the director noting she specifically wanted to avoid The "I Love You" Stigma.
  • One Last Job: Ollie thought she was done with selling drugs, but the circumstances force her to try one more time, as it's the only way she knows of to raise $3000 in one week.
  • Parking Problems: Deb tends to park her trailer in places where it would be ticketed. This eventually results in it getting towed, and all the drugs and money inside confiscated.
  • Title Drop: Little Woods is the town where most of the film takes place.