Effective storytelling often relies on details. “The Justice of Bunny King,” a surprising directorial debut from Gaysorn Thavat, is packed with details like the bra. Details gloss over condescension, and many movies about what is known as “the working class” reek of condescension. The recent “Holler” was a notable exception, as were the Eliza Hittman movies. It’s refreshing when you don’t feel like the actors are only on location for six weeks, with Los Angeles on speed dial right off screen. Everything in “Bunny King Justice” — the clothes, the car, the décor, Bunny’s sharp eyeliner, the plastic cake box, the worn-out bra — hasn’t been carefully placed in the frame. They were there before the camera started rolling, and they will be there after.
Bunny’s children, Ruben (Angus Stevens) and Shannon (Amelie Baynes), have been taken from her, for reasons not fully revealed until near the end of the film. The children are in foster care and Bunny is allowed short visits, all while a social worker stands by. Rubén is a teenager and he mistrusts his mother. Shannon is a disabled little girl who clings to Bunny, but young enough to call her adoptive mother “Mommy” too. Bunny can’t regain custody of her children until she has a job and decent housing, but how can she find decent housing with just a jar of coins? Meanwhile, she runs into her sister Sylvia (Darien Takle), Sylvia’s husband Bevan (Erroll Shand), and Bunny’s niece Tonya (Thomasin McKenzie). There is tension. Bunny cooks and cleans, feeling that she imposes herself on the family. There is a limit to her sister’s generosity. Then one day, Bunny witnesses something, something terrible. She yells it out, shattering the already fragile family dynamic. Bunny is kicked out of the house, her things (except the coin jar) thrown out the window.
It’s obvious from Bunny’s face that she’s wearing thin: there’s hysteria at play, an urgent, unpleasant energy. People recoil from her. She can be a bit scary, especially when she is angry or desperate. but his life it is desperate. Even having time to think is a luxury. The social worker assigns her a “dress for success” consultant, crucial to making a good impression when she looks for an apartment or a job. Bunny stumbles down the sidewalk in white platform sandals and a tailored blue suit, proving himself a competent and confident persona. But people eventually see through him to the raw need beneath. When she’s cornered or frustrated, Bunny makes big and bold decisions, and many of these decisions push boundaries, putting her in a state she can’t back out of. Eventually, Tonya runs away from home to join her outlaw aunt, following Bunny as she storms into the social workers’ offices, filling out forms with an impatience bordering on fury. Tonya has her own trauma, but being with Bunny is better than being at home.