With $260, a hire car and various spiritual assurances from the Lord, amiable soulmates Vanessa and Maurice Melton (plus their five kids) up sticks from their home in Anchorage, Alaska, and seek their fortune in Las Vegas. Spinning a kind of real-life soap opera, Jason Massot, the director of this documentary, met with the family four times, once a year between 2005 and 2008, to trace their progress, and his method emphasises the shocking pace of change in their cheerless lives. The film starts on an optimistic note as the parents are buoyed along by a determination to provide for their brood even though they’re living out of a car. But with every peak comes about five troughs, as Maurice is lured away by gambling and crack and Vanessa’s regular building work dries up as the global financial crisis leaves a trail of poverty in its wake. It’s a moving, if technically scraggy, portrait of how an instinct for survival can drive you away from those you love. It also tells of the tragedy of not knowing what the next day might bring.
Friday December 3 2010