Review: Allison Janney Goes for the Action in Lou, A Movie With Its Fists (and Heart) in the Right Place

From director Anna Foerster (Underworld: Blood Wars, several episodes of "Westworld" and "Jessica Jones") and producer J.J. Abrams comes Lou, the strangely complicated but somewhat thrilling movie about Hannah (Jurnee Smollett) and her young daughter Vee (Ridley Asha Bateman) living in an isolated coastal community next door to their stern landlord Lou (Allison Janney), who doesn’t seem to care about them in any way beyond their rent money. But during a particularly bad storm, Vee is kidnapped by her father Philip (Logan Marshall-Green), an ex-Special Forces explosives expert whom everyone thought had died years earlier. Before long, Lou reveals herself to have some special training and skills of her own, and the two women set out on a rescue mission that tests their limits and lead to revelations about both of them and their deeper connection to each other.

Written by Maggie Cohn and Jack Stanley, Lou sees Janney in rare action mode, something I can comfortably say that I’ve never seen before and would very much like to see again. She absolutely kicks all asses, beginning with a sequence in which she pretends to be a frail old woman searching for her lost dog in the storm and ending with her taking out two of Philip’s co-conspirators. So what does Philip want exactly? That’s an excellent question that I’m not sure the film ever fully explains. At first, we think he just wants his daughter, who is unaware that her father is dead (Hannah told her he was away working and wasn’t sure when he’d be back), but by the end of the film, it’s clear that he expected Hannah and Lou to pursue him, and he’s able to lure them somewhere very specific where they can all be together, in a bad way.

The only hint of outside help comes from the local sheriff (Matt Craven), but by the time he gets on the scene and is in any way able to help out, he’s too shocked by all the revelations at work to do anything useful. It’s actually kind of funny. If anything, he makes things a little worse when he gets in touch with the feds who are actively looking for both Philip and Lou (separately, and for wildly different reasons), and they immediately send forces in to clean up whatever mess the two have gotten into. But before we get there, most of Lou is a chase movie through treacherous woods, a dangerous storm, and even inside a rickety lighthouse. As overly complex as the story gets, when the film sticks to the hunt, it’s not half bad, especially with Janney transforming into a full-on action heroine, perhaps even more convincingly than Bob Odenkirk did in Nobody.

I happen to really like all of these lead actors in just about anything I see them in, so possibly I’m overpraising Lou a smidgen, but I don’t think so. Smollett also steps up as the fierce mother attempting to reach and defend her daughter. But it’s when she talks to Lou about the toxic relationship she shared with Philip when they were married that I was drawn into her character’s journey. Naturally, it has a somewhat silly and predictable ending, but it has its heart and fists in the right place, and I’m all ready to start watching Lou 2 as soon as it’s done.

The film begins streaming Friday, September 23 on Netflix.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.