The Statue of Liberty stands with her back facing the Jersey City, N.J., neighborhood where "On the Outs" takes place, serving as a daily reproach to three teenage girls who seem tethered to their no-exit lives.
Seventeen-year-old drug dealer Oz (Judy Marte, marvelous in "Raising Victor Vargas"), goes in and out of the nearby juvenile detention center with such regularity that a prison worker refers to her intermittent releases as "two-week vacations."
Also 17, crack addict Marisol (raccoon-eyed Paola Mendoza) has a small child to care for but leaves her with a relative for long stretches while she hocks anything she can (including herself) to feed her habit.
Suzette (Anny Mariano), 15, has the most stable home environment of the three, courtesy of her hardworking single mother, but she sacrifices her innocence to the cause of a bad-apple boyfriend.
The lives of these three unacquainted young women intersect twice over the course of this bracing and remarkably compact drama, which invests some standard movie tropes of rough-and-tumble urban life with deep feeling and urgency.
Honing dialogue through improvisations with a largely nonprofessional cast (many of whom served time at the Secaucus detention center used in the film), directors Lori Silverbush and Michael Skolnick manage to pack an amazing amount of emotion and environmental detail into the film's 1 hour and 23 minutes.
If the film teeters on sentimentality in brief patches (Oz's relationship with her mentally challenged brother), it overrides that impulse with a vise-like grip on the way things really are.
'On the Outs'
MPAA rating: R, for pervasive language, strong drug use, some violence and sexual content
A Polychrome Pictures release. Directors and producers Lori Silverbush and Michael Skolnick. Screenplay by Lori Silverbush. Director of photography Mariana Sanchez de Antonano. Editor Martha Skolnick. Costume designer Leceika Rijfkogel. Music Ricardo Leigh and Brian Satz. Production designer Katya Blumenberg. Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes. In limited release.