Movie Review: ‘The Justice Of Bunny King’

Greetings again from the darkness. Most of us are quick to judge others. Often too quick. This superb (and bleak) feature film debut from writer-director Gaysorn Thavat reminds us that our initial judgments might just be an easy “out” for us so that we may go on about our way, oblivious to the struggles of others. There is observational commentary here on what it means for a parent to love their kids so deeply, for someone to believe in themselves whole-heartedly, and for the pain an institution can cause under the guise of doing the right thing.

Essie Davis (THE BABADOOK, 2014) delivers a ferocious and authentic performance as Bunny, who is much stronger than we might originally think. Is she more determined or desperate? We aren’t sure. She’s also very clever at times, though sometimes unable to control her emotions. Bunny’s focus is on securing housing so that Social Services will permit her kids to live with her. Currently, she’s only allowed supervised visits, and we see loves them intensely. Shannon (Amelia Baynes) is a disabled 5-year-old who loves her back, while Reuben (Angus Stevens) is an angry and frustrated 14-year old who just wants a ‘normal’ life that doesn’t involve foster homes.

Bunny is perpetual motion. She describes herself as self-employed, spending days as a “Squeegee Bandit” cleaning windshields at stoplights for loose change. She’s saving that change in a soda bottle that she keeps in the linen closet of her sister’s house. It’s here where she cleans house, cooks dinner, does laundry, and watches kids all for the benefit of getting to sleep on the couch. Her sister Grace (Toni Potter) is a late shift nurse whose husband Bevan (Errol Shand) is a d-bag in so many ways. In fact, Bevan is at the center of an incident with Bunny’s niece Tonyah (Thomasin McKenzie, JOJO RABBIT, 2019; LAST NIGHT IN SOHO, 2021) that cuts right to the heart of Bunny’s character. We see how she reacts and begin to understand how she arrived at this particular lot in life.

Thavat’s co-writers Sophie Henderson (BABY DONE, 2020) and Gregory King center much of Bunny’s actions around the birthday party she has promised daughter Shannon for her upcoming birthday party. Is Bunny fit to be a mother? Most of the time we think she is devoting every waking moment to reuniting with her kids. However, in her worst moments, she lashes out and displays poor judgment, leaving us and Social Services with serious doubt. The past is brilliantly unfolded and never dwelled on because Bunny wakes up every morning optimistic about what lays ahead. There is a terrific sequence involving her attire, and Ms. Davis just nails the shift in tone. Hers is an award-worthy performance, if only enough people will see the film (which is doubtful). This New Zealand production expertly sets the stage with 4 Non Blondes “What’s Up” and then bookends with a different version by Willa Amai.

Opens in theaters on September 23, 2022

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