Rich Hill

August 29, 2014 at 4:34 pm | Posted in 2014 | Leave a comment
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◊ ½

Clayton Dillard, writing for Slant Magazine, referred to this documentary as “poverty porn.” That seems a bit harsh to me. Do we want to suggest that it is not possible for a film to chronicle less fortunate lives without being exploitative? These sorts of films, by their nature, are about audiences observing those who lack something they take for granted and, it seems to me, there is little more that a movie can hope for then to simply open some eyes. If that is gratuitous, then our archives are filled with countless films, both documentary and fiction, that are some form of “porn.” However, that push back aside, I cannot wholly embrace this documentary, either. Taking place mostly in Rich Hill, Missouri, the film follows three boys (Andrew, Harley and Appachey), ages 13-15, over what looks to be about a year’s time. The film cuts back and forth between the three boys’ stories, as told by them and their families. With a brutal, heart-wrenching honestly, they share their hopes, pain and desperation with the camera. In the end, there is far too little hope and far too much pain and desperation. This is where I struggled with the film. Even at a lean 91 minutes, it felt agonizingly long, partly because there is no narrative, no story arc, no movement for any of the characters and, partly because everything is so damn depressing. Their lives were pain before the filmmakers ever started shooting, they were pain the entire time, and they will almost certainly continue to be pain long after the cameras are gone. That is really heavy stuff and, without some sense of hope or movement to ground the audience, it feels like overload. It is deeply saddening to know that so much of America lives with such poverty, powerlessness, rage, drugs and abuse. It reminded me of how disconnected I am from how so many people in this country live. But, what can I do with that? Some films like “Bully” or “Waiting for Superman” can disturb us but also act as a rallying cry for change. But I did not leave this film energized or hopefully or angry; I just left it exhausted. At one point, Andrew says that he keeps praying to God every night but He hasn’t answered yet. He speculates that must be because God is busy with everyone else. He says he will keep praying because, at some point, God has to answer him.  If not, he says, “it’s going to break my heart.” Yeah, well, Rich Hill broke mine.

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