A grim social-realist drama from New Zealand that labors to twist its narrative into a redemptive arc, “The Justice of Bunny King” has an unsteady tone to match its ungainly title.
Bunny (Essie Davis) is introduced squeegeeing windshields for cash. She has no home of her own and, for reasons soon revealed, no custody of her children. Bunny, a chronic rule-bender, wants to pay a birthday visit to her young daughter (Amelie Baynes) in a couple of weeks, but she can’t secure permission from social services until she has a house.
So the movie, directed by Gaysorn Thavat, follows Bunny’s desperate and increasingly self-defeating efforts to find a home in time for her daughter’s birthday, or, barring that, to find a way to be there with presents, whether or not she can pay for them. For a time, it seems like “The Justice of Bunny King” will find a way out of poverty for Bunny, who engages in a series of small cons to get what she needs. (One of the less convincing ideas in a movie with many is that donning a pantsuit will immediately shift people’s perception of her.)
Around the halfway mark, Bunny hits the road with Tonyah (Thomasin McKenzie), her niece, who may be suffering abuse at home, and whose own story helps fill in the movie’s notion of Bunny as a righteous, loving protector whom the authorities simply refuse to treat as a human being. But the film needn’t stack the deck in Bunny’s favor — a less noble character might be more interesting — or look for glimmers of hope in a story that has few.