Directed by Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo
This year has proven that there still remains room for the coming-of-age film to grow. A trio of fiction features (Eliza Hittman’s It Felt Like Love, Daniel Patrick Carbone’s Hide Your Smiling Faces, and Richard Linklater’s Boyhood) peered in impressively close at some of the deeper mortifications and free-floating dangers of adolescence, and now the documentary Rich Hill carefully canvasses boys’ hopes and dreams as they endure tough circumstances. The film, directed by Andrew Droz Palermo and Tracy Droz Tragos, takes its title from the tiny Missouri town where it’s set, focusing in on three of its young inhabitants over the course of what turns out to be a very trying year for each of them. Mild-mannered teen Andrew grows tired of his family’s constant relocating, his father being both unable and reluctant to find steady employment (his son describes his dad’s work in an apt slip-up: “oddball jobs”); curse-word-mumbling middle-schooler Appachey totes around his skateboard looking for trouble, trying the patience of his mother and his school as his anger swells; and cutup ICP fan Harley understandably struggles to contain his considerable rage as well, living with his grandmother as his mother serves time for attempting to murder her husband for raping Harley.
Nothing feels particularly original about the enterprise of this film, which features George Washington-esque lyrical interludes, and seems to have taken some of its resilient tone and its three-strand structure from Alma Har’el’s more fabulist 2011 doc Bombay Beach (rougher domestic nonfiction analogues, such as Bill and Turner Ross’s Tchoupitoulas, also abound). But the filmmakers have nonetheless assembled some piercing footage. Andrew stands by as his dad goes about heating up water for his son’s bath (a pot simmers over a clothing iron, a coffeemaker runs), both water and gas having apparently long since been cut off in their home; on his 16th birthday, Harley winds up in the principal’s office, with the administrator sadly threatening to call a truant officer if Harley goes home “sick” yet again. Rich Hill distinguishes itself, in these moments, as straight engaged portraiture—we understand what makes these kids tick, and how much they need the love of what family they have left, no matter how much they sometimes seem determined to test it.
Opens August 1