Rich Hill, Missouri could be any of the countless small towns that blanket America’s heartland, but to teenagers Andrew, Harley and Appachey, it’s home. As they ride their skateboards and go to football practice, they are like millions of other boys coming of age the world over. But faced with difficult circumstances - isolation, instability, and parental unemployment - adolescence can be a daily struggle just to survive. With no road map and all evidence to the contrary, they cling to the hope that even they can live the American dream. Winner of the 2014 Sundance Grand Jury Prize, RICH HILL is an irresistibly moving and inspirational portrait of the challenges, hopes and dreams of rural America’s youth.
Alyssa Jewell, Andrew Jewell, Elizabeth Jewell, Willie Jewell
The rural community of Rich Hill, MO exists as a microcosm for limited dreams. The small and desolate area of poor families leaves little future for the youth that occupies. Many parents and educators preach to developing minds that education can open up a new world, where anything is possible and any dream is attainable. The brutal honesty here is that most of these American teenagers have a modicum of limited career options when they reach adulthood in this forlorn coming of age examination.
Directors Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo take aim at three kids living in this small town. The one with the biggest heart and the best chance at life is fourteen-year-old Andrew. He takes care of his family, does well enough in school, works hard and is just an overall great kid. Yet he is held back by his impoverished family, despite their desire to provide a better life than they had. His dad struggles for work and his mother is bound to the house by her crippling illness. Times become increasingly tough that Andrew and his sister are forced to move from town to town due to issues with paying rent. Andrew seems all but doomed to a downtroughten life of meager labor for minor pay.
Harley, 15, is the dark result of a messed up family. His father raped him and his mother is in prison for assaulting her rapist husband. Harley touches on the incident briefly with his thoughts on justice. Currently living with his grandma, he treasures the calls from prison where he gets to talk to his mom. The internal rage is masked by his hardcore obsession with Insane Clown Posse, purchasing knives and trying to find some humor. Upon turning 16, his life is still a mess of medication and acting up in school. The teachers have become fed up with him leaving school everyday simply because he just can’t take the frustration and unease of the environment. He cannot function properly and simply refuses to do so. Harley is that one student every kid sees and hears about who seems to be just a noogie away from a school shooting.
Thirteen-year-old Appachey seems to have the worst luck. Born into the cluttered pack of hoarders (sans the walk-out dad), his mother has become bitterly frustrated with the boy consumed by social issues. He is prone to outbursts just as frequent as his mother, leading to a troubled school life. So troubled, in fact, that Appachey is not only forced to retake certain grades, but becomes such a hassle that he’s even thrown into the juvenile detention system. Appachey doesn’t seem all that shocked about the result. He relays this information while he vegetates on the couch playing video games, yawning in between talking back to the screen. The only moment we get a peek into his mind is during a quiet chat where he reveals his true goals for the future. He wants to move to China to become an artist, as the prospect of drawing dragons all day seems cool to him. Rather ambitious and with no signs of artistry, but there is a vision in his head of a better life.
This is a documentary that doesn’t try to find a villain in all this depressing squaller. There is no one element to square in on and approach. This is not a film about how the school system, job market or American system has failed the future of the country. It could’ve just as easily taken that route, but this is a personal film about these kids and their lives. There is no magical solution to all this be it in the form of more educational funds or better mental health care. Would it help? Absolutely, but these are scars that run far deeper than just a monetary cure. The fly-on-the-wall approach allows the viewer to witness the bleeding that won’t stop.
One of the boys shares his thoughts about religion, believing that God is so busy he hasn’t gotten around to answering his prayers. He plays along with the others of Rich Hill as they bask in the simple joys of the high school football game or setting off fireworks. He confesses that if God doesn’t eventually answer he’ll be crestfallen eternally. These are the tough words that loom in the minds of these kids amid the ambient atmosphere of their lives. They all seem to have their own dreams and talents, but they may just as well wither away in a land of turmoil that pollutes hopes in humanity. Whoever answers their prayers, they better be loud as these children don’t seem to have a strong voice of their own. Rich Hill may not be a bullhorn, but it’s at least a very powerful microphone for these poor teens to let you inside their head and limited means of life.
You rated this film: 4
Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Classification is to be confirmed by the British Board of Film Classification
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