Rich Hill (2014)

Directed by Andrew Droz Palermo, Tracy Droz Tragos

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Rich Hill is a tiny town in Missouri, with a population barely over a thousand people.  Rich Hill the documentary chronicles a short amount of time in the lives of three young boys and the people who surround them.  Living in poverty, they are all pushing against certain barriers, whether purely economic or social, but despite the tough circumstances, they have hope.

Andrew’s family has moved around several times and will continue to do so while his life is charted on camera.  His father struggles to hold down a job, and his mother rarely leaves the home.  Harley has anger problems and a mother in prison.  Those things are connected, but that description glosses over all the details of a traumatic event which is discussed rather candidly in the film.  Finally, much of Appachey’s story is told through his mother who recounts how she went straight from childhood to motherhood with no time in between.

The three boys are the focus of the film, and through them the film explores childhood and economic inequality.  Andrew tells us how people come through who think they’re better than them, like “their shit don’t stink,” and he’s the most optimistic of the three.

They behave as children do, but we can’t help but notice the opportunities they will never have, whether or not they themselves do.  It’s a stark examination of the ways in which the playing fields are anything but level.  Within that, I suppose, we’re led to question what makes any of us happy.  We might empathize with the boys less than we sympathize with for them.  We see their plight, and we’re thankful we don’t have to go through that ourselves.

But these boys, for the most part, are just boys.  Harley has the most to work through, and his story is more than a little tragic.  Even so, most of the time we just see him as another kid, one who likes rap, the Insane Clown Posse and has a knife collection.

The film reminds me of 1994’s Hoop Dreams, another story about multiple boys from low income situations, their story chronicled over the course of four years.  I’m not sure how many months pass by in Rich Hill, but it’s enough to watch the boys change in ways they don’t realize and in the ways only movies can really capture.  It yields a similar effect as 2014’s Boyhood.  We observe the nuances of childhood, desires, fears and the smaller emotions which don’t last quite as long.

And that’s a good thing, because it would be a disservice to the people of the film to only examine their lives through a socioeconomic filter.  Sure, they have financial struggles, but they’re more than just some kind of statistic on small town poverty.  This is just life as they know it, in a place that’s easy to miss were you to drive by it.

The documentary shines a light on the community through these three participants as a way of giving attention to people who would otherwise never receive any.  It’s enough, I think, to just sit with them for 90 minutes and consider their own experiences.

Up Next: Life (2017), Affliction (1997), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

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