“How old do you have to be before people start treating you like a person?” — Rynn Jacobs
The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is uncomfortable. The 1976 film stars 14-year-old Jodie Foster, released the same year as Taxi Driver, to deservedly less acclaim.
It’s uncomfortable because the film is about children facing the evils of the outside world. The film is about trust and the unfortunate but understandable reasons why many people are unable to trust. I know I have breached people’s trust and it’s the hardest thing to live with.
Jodie’s Rynn Jacobs is 13 or 14 depending on who she’s talking to, playing a charade of cohabitating with her hermetic poet of a father. But we all know her father’s dead and she’s all alone, and when we come to this film, we sort of assume Rynn is behind some dark tragedy.
That’s what everyone else does too. That’s precisely the point.
But the only reason Rynn is keeping this secret is to stay safe. Stay safe from Cora Hallet, Rynn’s racist landlord who owns the house and threatens to take it back. Stay safe from her son Frank (Martin Sheen), a pedophile everyone knows about but nobody does anything about. Stay safe from the nosy police curious about her situation. Rynn can’t trust anybody. As she says, “If I listened to them, I’d become them.” Adults “will try to make me someone else.”
What’s so devastating is that she’s right.
What transforms her situation (and the film) is when she meets Mario (Scott Jacoby), a fellow teenager, a wannabe magician. Their relationship is nothing like I expected, but it betrays a big heart and kind intentions. Mario is a fellow survivor, a fellow lost child in need of a friend. A potential ally.
Unfortunately, the film does cross a line and there’s a justifiable reason why Jodie Foster has disavowed the film. That reason may be enough to skip the film entirely, but I had to see what went wrong.
What I learned was that the mistake was easily rectified, a scene that could’ve (and should’ve) been easily cut from this film, a gratuitous mistake to push Mario and Rynn’s relationship to something unnecessary, and even more unnecessary, for us to to be privy to that. Using Jodie’s older sister as the body double is not good enough. Their connection is none of our business. These are children. As Rynn argues throughout the film, “This is my house!”
And we are not invited. By trespassing, by breaching Jodie Foster’s trust, the film falls into the very trap it’s trying to make commentary about. We are failing our kids. There are so many homes out there where kids are fending for themselves, where they feel like they can’t trust anyone, because whenever they see an adult, they’re trying to take things from them. Rynn asks us: “Since when do they let kids do what they want?”
Rynn is my hero. Rynn is an inspiration, a singular badass whip smart teenager to look up to who knows trust must be earned again and again.
“Don’t give in. Survive.”
The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is now streaming on Shudder.