LITTLE WOODS: quiet desperation in North Dakota

Sisters Ollie (Tessa Thompson) and Deb (Lily James) recently lost their mother. Ollie is on probation after being caught illegally crossing the border with pills between North Dakota and Canada. She only has a few days of probation left when her sister tells her that she’s pregnant with her second child, and the father is an unreliable alcoholic. Add to that a foreclosure notice on their mother’s house. The two women are on their own.

Deb is forced to choose between having the baby, the minimum cost will be $8000, or having an abortion in Canada if she can obtain fake Canadian paperwork. Ollie is desperately trying to change her own station by getting a job out of town and moving away from the people who expect her to keep peddling pills.

The sisters are presented with a way out: Ollie can cross the border and bring back pills while Deb gets her paperwork and terminates the pregnancy. The cash Ollie will make from taking this risk will save the house for Deb and her son. The catch is that Ollie will go to prison if they get caught.

For Ollie, drug-dealing is a noble cause. The people in her community are hard workers with pain issues and no access to medications. When her mother was alive, she brought back drugs to prolong her life. It was never about the money before, but now the need for money is undeniable. And her mixture of odd jobs won’t save the house or help her sister.  

Little Woods is a quiet film about the excruciating choices that women have to make for care for their families, and how desperation leads to dangerous situations. Little Woods does not let the viewer forget that women are both strong and vulnerable, and there are always people who will take advantage of these traits.

Thompson and James are both captivating leads whose chemistry brings an authenticity to every scene. And it’s a solid reminder that, as Ollie puts it, “your choices are only as good as your options.”