Behind Closed Doors (aka The Poker House) was directed and written by actress Lori Petty (Tank Girl) and based on her own true story. Looking at the story of three sisters Agnes (Jennifer Lawrence), Bee (Sophia Bairley) and Cammie (Chloe Grace Moretz) and their experiences living with their drug addicted mother Darla (Selma Blair) the film focuses on Agnes and her attempts to keep her sisters safe. With her mother being pimped out by Duval (Bokeem Woodbine) her boyfriend/pimp, we see the events that finally drive Agnes to pull her sisters and herself away from a situation destined for tragedy.
Looking at an actor’s back catalogue can provide mixed results. When it comes to Behind Closed Doors, the results are mostly positive. Admittedly for the most part it does feel like a movie that wouldn’t feel out-of-place on the Lifetime channel, what makes it stand out is the chemistry between the three young actors playing the girls. Though Chloe Grace Moretz for the most part appears sporadically and never in the actual Poker House itself, she has a comical role with moments where she really makes you feel sorry for her. It’s interesting to see her before her big break out as Hit Girl in Kick-Ass. When it comes to Jennifer Lawrence though we see the more dramatic side, especially with her focus of getting Bee (Sophia Bairley) away from the house when her mother is strung out on drugs and filling the house with prostitutes and pimps. You can’t help but wonder how the children survived in that situation for so long and why nothing was done to help them sooner.
Jennifer Lawrence’s performance show that even at this younger age she had the acting ability to draw the audience’s attention and pull them into the story. This makes the impact of what we see on the screen all the more effective. We are somewhat tricked for most of the movie into enjoying the comic relationship between the sisters and seeing their day-to-day antics that when Agnes is alone with her mother or with the pimp, the sudden shift in tone is harsh and at times heart breaking. Lawrence has the acting ability that is on full show here, showing sadness at times without even having to say a word.
The world created in Behind Closed Doors and around the Poker House is one of hopelessness and poverty. Agnes does what she does to keep her family together, even in the face of the dangers of people like Duval who is grooming Agnes to be his next piece of meat to sell out to his customers. There is an inevitability in the relationship he creates with her, and with the actions he takes which are both tragic to see but all too powerful because they are believable. The narration of the story pulls the audience all too close to the relationships in the house and that in the end is what makes the film so powerful, and to know Lori Petty both directed the story as well as wrote it really hit home where it counts, and that is the emotions especially knowing the level of truth that is on show.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with Behind Closed Doors, and to be honest I do prefer the name The Poker Houseto the new one that has been given. Being able to look back to 2008 when Jennifer Lawrence hadn’t become the huge star we now know her as is interesting, and the strong performance that we expect from her is already there in this movie. Sometimes lacking at times but effective in the places it truly needs to be, Behind Closed Doors is well worth the watch not only to see the performances by a young Jennifer Lawrence and Chloe Grace Moretz but also for the skilful way Lori Petty reveals a glimpse into what must be a painful memories.