The documentary “Rich Hill” follows the lives of three teenage paupers among the 1,396 denizens of the eponymous Missouri town.
Under-supervised in squalid homes and overmedicated for learning disabilities, Appachey West and Harley Hood curse, smoke, act out and wind up in juvie like clockwork. Reared in a semblance of a functional family, Andrew Jewell seems better adjusted yet equally unable to escape his fate.
Much like “Bombay Beach,” Alma Har’el’s 2011 doc, “Rich Hill” can best be described as the nonfiction counterpart of the “poverty porn” exemplified by Harmony Korine’s 1997 “Gummo,” David Gordon Green’s 2000 “George Washington” and Matt Porterfield’s 2011"Putty Hill.” Directors Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo have aestheticized “Rich Hill” so excessively that it’s at times indistinguishable from those fictional offerings.
Poverty as a subject isn’t the problem. No one ever accused Italian neo-realists or British social realists of tripping on liberal guilt. Poverty as an aesthetic, however, is a perspective only the privileged can afford.
Rather than putting us in the shoes of the poor, “Rich Hill” merely lets filmmakers and art-house patrons pat themselves on the back for watching the lyrical misfortunes of others.
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.
Playing: At Laemmle’s NoHo 7, North Hollywood. Also on VOD.