(director/writer: Matt Porterfield; screenwriters: based on a scenario by Matt Porterfield and Jordan Mintzer; cinematographer: Jeremy Saulnier; editor: Marc Vives; cast: Sky Ferreira (Jenny), Zoe Vance (Zoe), James Siebor Jr. (James), Dustin Ray (Dustin), Cody Ray (Cody), Charles Sauers (Spike), Catherine Evans (Catherine), Virginia Heath (Virginia), Casey Weibust (Casey), Drew Harris (Geoff); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Jordan Mintzer/Steve Holmgren/Joyce Kim/Eric Bannat; Cinema Guild; 2010)


“Given a realistic impression of America.


Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The second feature of writer-director Matt Porterfield(“Hamilton”)is a hybrid film that blends together fiction and documentary. It paints a bleak portrait of a working-class integrated community on the outskirts of Baltimore called Putty Hill. The film depicts in its own unique way how a community and extended family come together for the funeral of a fictional 24-year-old named Cory, who died of a drug-overdose after being released from serving an eight-month sentence for drug possession. The indie is presented in a breakthrough style of having an unseen interviewer (Matt Porterfield) interview a number of characters with trivial biographical questions and each character’s response sets the stage for the direction the plotless film is going, as it progresses with a number of vignettes.

It opens in the woods over a paintball game, where on the day before Cory’s funeral his younger brother (James Siebor Jr.) is playing paintball for the first time with his brother’s friends and telling the interviewer he keeps busy in his spare time writing a book about vampires. The next episode has an ex-con tattoo artist, Cory’s uncle (Charles Sauers), doing a tat of an ex-con. That leads into a skate park chat with a 21-year-old live-at-home slacker skater (Cody Ray) and finally to the centerpiece wake at the funeral parlor. There friends and family gather, but even though they seem touched no one really seems to know the deceased that well and no one can articulate their feelings with much conviction of how they felt about him. A number of mourners sing karaoke, but only when the out-of-town cousin Jenny (Sky Ferreira, the only professional actor in the pic), the estranged daughter of the tattoo artist, sings at the wake a rendition of “I Will Always Love You,” is some moving feeling expressed for the deceased.

It was sad to see the fractured hardscrabble community seem so hopelessly lost in their downtrodden malaise, but by letting the people of the community speak in their own lingo, no matter how banal or inarticulate, we are given a realistic impression of America’s disenfranchised young. What we don’t get is any great insights into the enormity of the problems facing America’s uneducated youth, and we are not sure if the filmmaker wished to make a statement that this region serves as a microcosm for the whole country or if he just wants to show us a reality he knows well since he grew up in a nearby Baltimore neighborhood. Since a conventional narrative is absent, we must settle for just tuning into the images as our guide to put things in proper prospective as to why such a downward mobility in Putty Hill. In the end, it’s hard to feel that sorry for a deceased jailbird junkie who was leading such an empty life and the other idler druggies viewed, but we can be grateful for seeing a community presented in such a raw unnerving way by the filmmaker and his co-writer Jordan Mintzer that allows us to think for ourselves what we are seeing without being forced-fed.