Directed By Nicole Riegel
Starring – Pamela Adlon, Jessica Barden, Austin Amelio
The Plot – In a forgotten pocket of Southern Ohio where American manufacturing and opportunity are drying up, a determined young woman (Barden) finds a ticket out when she is accepted to college. Alongside her older brother (Gus Halper), Ruth Avery joins a dangerous scrap metal crew in order to pay her way. Together, they spend one brutal winter working the scrap yards during the day and stealing valuable metal from the once thriving factories at night. With her goal in sight, Ruth finds that the ultimate cost for an education for a girl like her may be more than she bargained for, and she soon finds herself torn between a promising future and the family she would leave behind.
Rated R for adult language and sexual references.
– Authenticity. This feels like a passion project for Riegel, who crafts no shortage of depth to supplant to the very lived-in quality of the narrative. It starts with the full fledged abundance of characterization, complete with subtle nuances and an abundance of personality that illustrates layers towards characters who would otherwise be forgettable in a first-person coming of age story. Because of such, these characters are not only fleshed out with various psychologies, ambitions, and respective arc’s, but are also given ample time to resonate on-screen and influence the familiarity of Ruth’s smothering home life, further providing the drive to escape its clutches once and for all. In addition to this, it’s the inclusion of the town and its outdated cultures that articulate a small town ideal of quality in the film to play towards the claustrophobia that holds Ruth captive, orchestrating its charms while speaking volumes to the overall lack of opportunity that feeds a dreamer’s tale.
– Nourishing commentary. Because this is a film taking place in a real town at a particular place in recent history, Riegel as a screenwriter takes stock in amplifying the voice of the voiceless from small town Americana, complete with effects from the causes of irresponsible politicians that often roll the dice on real people. While not a major focal point of the screenplay, the obvious intention of Trump’s America is an effective one that triggers sadness and overwhelming disbelief in the faces of the same people who voted for him, and conjuring up an unshakeable hopelessness and helplessness of the ensuing community. Films like these prove how one key business in a small town can sink its people whole, all the while speaking volumes to why so many turn to a life of crime, without fully justifying it. It’s very much a film that is every bit responsible as it is fearless, and gives Riegel the opportunity to zero in on the discontent of those who always suffer the strongest in sacrificial times.
– Accessibility. It’s still an argument as to whether or not Ruth is in fact Nicole in the flesh, but one brilliant step that she takes as a captivating storyteller in distinguishing the two is in her ability to depict her protagonist as a slice of humanity above all else. This means that her gender nor her age are used to outline a unique disposition, and instead thrives on the internal struggle of daily despair that so many audience members can engage and relate towards. It would be easy to conjure up another cautionary tale of female empowerment in an all male dominated society, but Reigel instead keeps her eyes on the prize by consistently juggling what’s at stake versus the prize hanging in the balance, ultimately crafting a realistic dreamer’s tale with all of the high’s, low’s, and spontaneities of life’s many unpredictable beats along the way.
– Local connection. One element of positivity that is unique particularly to this critic is the desire to shoot this on authentic soil, in the heart of Jackson, Ohio, a small town that is 10-15 minutes from my house. Aside from the obviousness of spotting no shortage of familiar landmarks and the intoxication of diverse landscapes deep in the countryside, there’s an appreciation that I have from a first-hand filmmaker of Ohio to not forget her roots, simultaneously running us through the same kind of success story that may or may not deliberately resonate with Ruth’s own ambition in frame. All jokes and kidding aside, Ohio is the perfect setting for the conjuring of small town aspirations towards big city surroundings, and articulates meaning in the level of benefit of this setting feeling like a character of its own in the movie, if only for the way the longtime locals are weighed down by its limitations in opportunity despite their obvious love for it. A true commentary on anyone who has ever spent a year or more in one of Ohio’s many small towns.
– Abstract presentation. So much of the emotional consistency that the film hammers home in materializing a smothering blanket of melancholy persists in the pulse of the aesthetic plunge that the production delivers so candidly. The grounded ambition of cinematography from Dustin Lane, a visionary who knows a thing or two about illustrating environmental influence, garners many tracking shots and lukewarm color correction to play towards the bleak atmospheric dread that nearly swallows an entire community whole. In addition to this, natural lighting of interior shots give an untouched polish to the aforementioned authenticity, which further cements a documentarian approach to the consistency of the experience. With a minimal budget of under 2 million dollars, it’s clear that every dollar was spent on articulating the elements of influence for the captivation, channeling central Ohio in a way that very few films have imaginatively captured in other films about the Buckeye state.
– Stoic performances. When watching “Holler”, you should understand that there’s nothing emotionally moving or gut-wrenching about the work from talented leads like Barden and Amelio, instead slicing out a humanity for their characters that is every bit raw as it is revealing for the baggage that hangs onto each of them. For Barden, it’s the gritty, unfussy influence of being a teenager, embodying a playful ignorance and unguarded vulnerability that she often prepares for, but rarely sees coming. Austin Amelio’s Hark is equally captivating, albeit for entirely different reasons. He’s very much a psychological suppressor to Barden’s Ruth, often presenting her with a backhanded opportunity while deconstructing the idea of college and all of its empty promises. Because there’s enough truth in the lines Amelio commits to, it’s easy to interpret what Ruth often believes in, providing them periodically with a father/daughter dynamic that purposely emits a creepy unsettling to their chemistry, for the way it evolves beyond a professional relationship.
– Meandering music. It’s unfortunate that my first experience with composer Gene Back’s sombering tones and compositions brought an almost instant distaste to the otherwise interpretable experience from the tonal and visual pallets that adorned the movie. Back’s work itself isn’t horribly composed or irritating to the ears they play towards, just rather they don’t belong in a movie where subtlety and authenticity play so handedly towards one another. Abstraction is the last element of these accommodating tones, bringing forth a sound mixing so loud that its overbearing emphasis is almost comical the longer it persists through the sequences it influences. Speaking of influence, I feel that it was a great disservice towards this talented cast to even have such an emphasis on musical score in general. For my money, less could’ve meant so much more here, and allowed Barden and company to double their value with the heavy lifting of emotional dexterity that the music steals long before they ever get a chance to.
– Dwindling urgency. When the raw authenticity of the honest side of its depiction isn’t matched by any semblance of dramatic depth to sell the intrigue of the conflict, you can bet it will make for a flat climax to the movie that left so much more to be desired. Part of my problem in this aspect is the best scenes often left on the cutting room floor of the movie’s sequencing, disappointing with several missed opportunities that tell instead of show what we the audience should be experiencing. But the bigger emphasis is cast on the limitations within its 85 minute run time that keep the direction on a straight and narrow path of conformity while bottling some arduous pacing that tested my interest in the story on more than one occasion, particularly during the second act. Because it builds so little conflict along the way of its story until it absolutely has no choice but to, it never builds for a confrontation that should serve as the epiphany to Ruth’s driving determination, resolving matters on a neat and tidy bow of conventionalism that is a bit irresponsible considering where it leaves everyone surrounding her.
– Familiarity. Reigel herself isn’t able to free herself from the shackles of other better coming of age narratives with an unlucky protagonist evoking the struggle of small town life, particularly in the few scenes during the film that serve as unflinching reminder of those its tied so forcefully to. There are many examples, but for my money the inspirational yet poignant resolution of the film will inevitably fall by the shadow of 1997’s “Good Will Hunting”, complete with beat for beat movements of the characters that does no favors in ridding itself of the comparison. I was constantly reminded of those movies that came before it, despite the fact that the particularities of the narrative weave an experience that should feel fresh and innovative despite it, leaving a majority of this film, like its protagonist, with the promise of big dreams dashed by its occasional mediocrity.
My Grade: 7/10 or B-