If you ever find yourself traveling down Interstate 49 through Missouri, try not to blink—you may miss Rich Hill, population 1,396. Rich Hill is easy to overlook, but its inhabitants are as woven into the fabric of America as those living in any small town in the country. This movie intimately chronicles the turbulent lives of three boys living in said Midwestern town and the fragile family bonds that sustain them.
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★★★★ review by Peter Rogers on Letterboxd
Wonderfully filmed, hauntingly tragic and deeply moving. 2014's documentary Rich Hill might not be for everybody, but it certainly hit a chord with me.
Rich Hill explores the tragedy of youth that is trapped in a place of nowhere. Where opportunities are limited, if not minimal, in Middle America. The film is catastrophically smothering, and instills an urge in the viewer to break free: the same hopes we have for our three young protagonists.
These young boys are locked into cycles of hopelessness, mediocrity and disadvantage - yet, to their credit, they seek to find ways to define themselves and make moments of experience in their early lives.
Rich Hill could be accused of being self-indulgent, and perhaps too micro in its focus, nonetheless, as a pure visual experience, following the lives of real people in real circumstances, it's wonderfully engaging.
★★★★★ review by Travis Pipes on Letterboxd
Rich Hill is a doc that should be seen by all for it's unwavering empathy. It's a portrait of America's invisible people; the kids in terrible situations beyond their control.
★★★★ review by Zach Skov on Letterboxd
An emotional story following three boys living in the middle of nowhere with minimal opportunities.
This made me feel things I wasn't ready to feel.
★★★★ review by sprizzle on Letterboxd
I love, love, love documentaries like this. Documentaries that get down into the nitty gritty corners of American life; that don't polish or sugar coat how the lower classes live in this country. Rich Hill is an arrestingly beautiful film focusing on three young boys in a part of the country that's been all but forgotten.
As soon as I finished watching this movie, I looked up Rich Hill to see what I would find. Right near the top of the results are plenty of articles about their famous pie auction. Breaking records for auctioning off some of the most expensive pies ever sold, and all for a good cause. That's what this town is known for from an outsider's perspective. But obviously filmmakers Andrew Droz Palermo and Tracy Droz Tragos had a different side of the story to tell. The decline and struggle that is poverty in rural America.
Coming from rural America myself, I instantly recognize all the characters. These people aren't just in this film, they are everywhere. People that sometimes struggle to put food on the table and pay their electricity bills. The film is just as much a critique on the welfare system as anything I've seen in recent years. But the real success of this film is that it doesn't shove it in your face. It's instead just a camera, there to capture anything that might look great on screen. It finds beauty in dark places. Where it's always been but is harder to see sometimes. The real reason this film is something special is the apparent lack of agenda. You're left to take home whatever message you desire. The filmmakers just provide you with what's actually going on in Rich Hill and do so in a way that will stick with you for a long time.
★★★★ review by Kurdt on Letterboxd
There's something about American culture that fascinates me. I've never stepped foot on the dirt across the pond or breathed the air over there, but through the amount of films and TV I watch I do feel a strange connection to the place. But it's an ethereal feeling, like I have this idea of it that I know will surely be shattered once I do finally take the plunge and take a trip there. In England we're supposedly one of the countries most similar to the US, but the deeper I dive past the superficial ideologies the more I uncover large cultural differences. After watching Happy Valley the other day, and discovering yet more intricacies about American culture previously unknown, I decided to revisit the place that's burrowed inside me and bred a strange fascination within by watching Rich Hill, a simple documentary about a small, decaying town in Missouri.
The film follows three high school kids - Andrew, Harley and Appachey, and their families over a brief period in their lives. There is no major focus here, directing duo Andrew Droz Palermo and Tracy Droz Tragos both grew up in the town and have now returned to see how it's doing or perhaps, to see what they managed to get away from. Through beautifully shot moments of the small-town nightlife, with the sharp black skies lit up by fireworks and carousels, down to intimate heartfelt confessions by the subjects, Palermo and Tragos examine what it's like to grow up in a densely populated town far removed from the rest of civilisation. It's clear that Rich Hill isn't a place for the wealthy. The population is under 1,500, homes are small and rugged and there's a distinct lack of available jobs. The American dream is built on the idea that anyone can succeed, make a ton of money and live happily ever after - but living in a place like Rich Hill, where do you begin? Andrew's dad changes career so much that his family has moved over a dozen times, so much that when Andrew is recounting their former homes he forgets a few. Appachey has severe behavioural problems that his mother struggles to keep in check, and Harley's mother is in jail and he can't keep his anger from rushing to the surface. The town is eerily quiet during the day, only the sound of the school bus arriving enough to break the bubble of palpable contemplation, and at night the kids are left to their own devices and run off to light fireworks. How can the three boys even attempt to scratch and claw for the American dream when their hometown is so devoid of life and opportunity?
All three have had tough upbringings (even tougher than originally thought after some new information is thrown at us midway through the film) and are struggling to make their way into adulthood, but none of them know what awaits and whether they've got a positive attitude or a negative one, they seem destined to be stuck in Rich Hill and slowly decay with the rest of the town. Appachey's mother at one point states she never had any dreams because she finished school at 17 and immediately got married and pregnant, practically forced to grow up ahead of schedule. Andrew says he prays every night but doesn't get an answer, but he reckons God is just busy with other people and will get around to him soon enough. He says he'll be heartbroken if he doesn't. Harley doesn't get to see his mother anymore, only getting to hear the sound of her voice via phone or marvelling at her penmanship through the letters they send each other. It all adds up to a rather sad examination of life in a poor American town. Everyone here feels like they're completely cut off from the rest of the country, like they've been forgotten about and simply left to fend for themselves.
In the end there's no conclusion, no burst of inspiration that pulls someone out of their lull and onto surefire success, and barely a beacon of hope that anyone in this documentary will improve their lives. No answers are offered, but there weren't any questions to begin with. Palermo and Tragos simply set out to capture their hometown, the people that occupy it and the disenchantment towards the American dream slowly rising to the surface, like the anger in Harley's veins or the fear of the future eating away at Andrew's brain. A powerful but poignant look at a town and it's inhabitants seemingly forgotten by the rest of society.
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