Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

This movie ‘Winter of Frozen Dreams’ is based on a true story which takes place in the mid-seventies and introduces us to the character of Barbara Hoffman (Thora Birch) who we are told is a young woman with an intelligence near genius proportions. Barbara has taken this intelligence, dropped out of college and has applied her prodigious smarts into working as a prostitute. We know already from the opening scene in the movie that Barbara has been found guilty of murder in the first degree, so the rest of the movie will focus on how Barbara got to that point.

Our film opens around Christmastime in Wisconsin, and if you’ve ever been anywhere around these parts of the Great Lakes area around this time, then you can appreciate director Eric Mandelbaum’s conveyance at how miserable it can be. So we meet an older lonely man named Harry Berge (Dan Moran) who apparently didn’t want to spend the holidays alone, picks up his phone and calls the local dial-a-ho. Next thing we know Harry is dead, lying on Barbara Hoffman’s bathroom floor with his head bashed in. The narrative jumps around a bit so the things that we see aren’t necessarily in chronological order.

Dead bodies on bathrooms pose a problem for most people, but not for Ms. Hoffman who simply calls her emotionally retarded boyfriend Jerry Davies (Brandon Sexton III) who strongly suggests they call the police, but Barbara being the manipulative convincing minx that she is convinces Jerry that they bury the dead guy out of the way in the snow somewhere. Eventually this gets the best of the good hearted Jerry who confesses to local police officer Detective Lulling (Keith Carradine) what they have done, convinced in his heart of hearts that his prostitute girlfriend had nothing to do with Harry Berge’s unfortunate accident.

As the police investigate deeper, they uncover a little more about the nature of Barbara Hoffman, such as the various insurance policies she has taken out these pathetic lonely men she is servicing. We should mention that despite the fact that Barbara is a whore

and Jerry knows she’s a whore, he’s still not getting any. Now you see what we mean by ‘emotionally retarded’. There’s also Barbara’s chemistry knowledge which comes into play as well as Barbara’s odd relationship with her pimp Ray Curtis (Dean Winters) who Barbara seems to have the prototypical dependent pimp / prostitute relationship with, and in true pimp fashion Ray wastes no time in selling Barbara out. I suppose the question would be, in relationship to this movie, is Barbara guilty of the crimes she has committed though she emphatically denies any wrong doing?

Now in relation to that question, it really isn’t answered though there seems to be more than enough information presented that Barbara Hoffman is guilty of the crimes for which she is serving a life sentence for. The whole sketchiness of ‘Winter of Frozen Dreams’ is one of the reasons that I didn’t care for this movie all that much, but there are some good things about this film. Mandelbaum has created a movie that looks and feels like a movie that was shot in the mid-70’s with its washed out color palette, sets and clothes. Birch gives a solid, if not all that insightful performance as Barbara Hoffman and it’s never a bad decision to put Keith Carradine anywhere in your movie if possible.

Another problem that I had with ‘Winter of Frozen Dreams’ is that it’s slow and uninvolving. A slow movie in of itself isn’t a problem if it’s slow and insightful, or slow and deep thinking, or slow and emotionally moving. This was just… slow. Since we know from frame one that Barbara Hoffman was found guilty of the crimes committed, there was never any real tension that the filmmakers were able to generate through the movie, and personally I didn’t get a feel for the character of Barbara Hoffman, who she was and why she did what she did, assuming she was guilty. Considering the story was based on a book, I would think the book would’ve given us more insight to the character and the crime which the film couldn’t, or chose not to enlighten us with. Also considering Barbara Hoffman isn’t talking to anybody about anything for the last thirty years, I’m thinking this would’ve been just the right opportunity for a little ‘creative license’ and start generating some visual theories to keep things interesting.

As it stands, ‘Winter of Frozen Dreams’ is a film that has some interesting performances and realistic gritty feel to it, but simply doesn’t illuminate or enlighten a crime and a trial that I’m told was pretty sensational in the mid-seventies. It would appear that more could’ve been done to bring this story to life.

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