Review: 'Medora' leaves many questions about small-town travails

The depressed farming community of Medora, Ind., is the focus of the often-somber documentary appropriately titled "Medora." The film, directed by Andrew Cohn and Davy Rothbart, works as an earnest snapshot of a certain kind of small town that's struggling to exist amid economic downturns, shuttered workplaces and a stultifying lack of hope or progress.

It's a sad commentary about people and places that get left behind — the wholesale disappearance of the American dream.

As a compelling viewing experience, however, "Medora," which counts actors Steve Buscemi and Stanley Tucci among its executive producers, falls short as it follows members of the town's hapless high school basketball team over the course of a single school year. These players can't quite break their team's longtime losing streak, something that's perhaps as attributable to the kids' hardscrabble existences as it is to their hoop skills (that it's the state's fifth-smallest public high school also minimizes the possible pool of athletic talent).

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While these teenagers' beleaguered home lives provide the greater potential drama here, the filmmakers don't sufficiently probe the stories behind those stories: the long-gestating, sociopolitical complexities that have fueled such local problems as drug use, alcoholism, poverty, broken families, unemployment and academic limitation.

In addition, the featured boys, their family members and the other townsfolk don't make for the most charismatic or spirited on-camera subjects, which frankly curbs our emotional investment in these Hoosiers' travails. Honest and unadorned though the film may be, it's ultimately just not that involving.



MPAA rating: None

Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes.

Playing: At Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena.


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