A briskly edited, fast-moving documentary, OT: OUR TOWN craftily positions itself as an "inspirational" film from practically the opening frame. You've seen this kind of movie before, and in this particular case the uplift it provides viewers is rather modest. Even so, it is an absorbing, poignant piece of work that achieves its effects honestly.OT: OUR TOWN takes place in the rough and tumble section of L.A. known as Compton, which is best known--almost exclusively known, in fact--as the breeding ground for gangsta rap and pro basketball players. In a terribly underfunded high school in the midst of this humble environment, English teacher Catherine Borek attempts to mount of production of Thornton Wilder's classic play OUR TOWN, with the cast taken from the student body. It is a rather formidable challenge: the school has not put on a play in some twenty years, and Borek faces a huge wall of apathy from both the students (many of them poor, demoralized kids from broken homes) and the board (which seems to care about little except the school basketball team).
Director Kennedy, who fills the soundtrack with bouncy pop/rap tunes, keeps the pace swift, zeroing in on each of the student actors only long enough to let us get a grip on his or her basic personality. The film, therefore, lacks depth; but he does manage to bring the kids' grimy neighborhood to life--the students may be only briefly glimpsed as individuals, but you do get a sense of their collective consciousness, their shared pain. Kennedy also hit on an ingenious framing device: he intercuts the kids' rehearsals with scenes from the 1977 Hal Holbrook TV production of OUR TOWN; it's a simple but effective way of maintaining coherency.
As I've suggested, the film is "inspiration" at a fairly low level; the kids don't really achieve anything except put on an less-than-professional-level production of the play in front of their fellow students. But the experience seems to have done them a lot of good.It's a bit like ROCKY: they may not have won the big fight, but they earned self-respect--and what else reallly matters?
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Santa Monica Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Santa Monica Film Festival series, click here.