Effective storytelling is usually grounded in detail. “The Justice of Bunny King”, a great directorial debut from Gaysorn Thavat, is full of details like the bra. Details eschew condescension, and so many films about what is referred to as the “working class” reek of condescension. The latest “Holler” was a notable exception, as were the films from Eliza Hittman. It’s refreshing when you don’t feel like the actors are only on location for six weeks, with Los Angeles on speed dial just off-screen. Everything in “The Justice of Bunny King”—the clothes, the car, the decor, Bunny’s pointed eyeliner pencil, the plastic cookie box, the worn bra—has not been carefully placed in the frame. They were there before the camera started rolling and they will be there afterwards.
Bunny’s children, Ruben (Angus Stevens) and Shannon (Amelie Baynes), has been taken from her for reasons not fully revealed until the end of the film. The children are in foster care, and Bunny gets short visits, all while a social worker hovers on the sidelines. Ruben is a teenager and wary of his mother. Shannon is a small disabled child who clings to Bunny, but young enough to call her foster mother “mother” too. Bunny can’t regain custody of her children until she has a job and suitable housing, but how can she find suitable housing with just a jar of coins? Meanwhile, she joins her sister Sylvia (Darien Tackle), Sylvia’s husband Bevan (Errol Shand), and Bunny’s niece Tonya (Thomasin McKenzie). There is tension. Bunny cooks and cleans and feels like she is imposing on the family. There is a limit to her sister’s generosity. Then one day, Bunny witnesses something, something terrible. She calls it out and shatters the already fragile family dynamic. Bunny is kicked out of the house, her things (except the coin jar) thrown out the window.
It’s clear on Bunny’s face that she’s running on fumes: there’s hysteria at play, an urgent and off-putting energy. People shy away from her. She can be a little scary, especially when she’s angry or desperate. But her life is desperate. Even having time to think is a luxury. The social worker sets her up with a “dress for success” consultant, essential to making a good impression when looking for an apartment or a job. Bunny totters down the sidewalk in white platform sandals and a tailored blue suit, trying on a competent and confident persona. But people eventually see through that to the raw need underneath. When cornered or frustrated, Bunny makes big bold choices, and many of those choices are beyond the pale, putting her in a state she can’t back out of. In the end, Tonya runs away from home to join her outlaw aunt as Bunny flies into the social workers’ offices, filling out forms with impatience bordering on fury. Tonya has her own trauma, but being with Bunny is better than being at home.