The Movie Waffler First Look Review - HOLLER | The Movie Waffler

First Look Review - HOLLER

holler review
In a crumbling Ohio town, a teenager joins a scrap metal crew.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Nicole Riegel

Starring: Jessica Barden, Gus Halper, Pamela Adlon, Becky Ann Baker, Austin Amelio

holler poster

Rising British star Jessica Barden makes an impressive play for American stardom in Holler, the feature debut of writer/director Nicole Riegel, who expands a 2016 short here. And what an American movie Holler is, dealing with the much publicised plight of America's heartland.

Inspired by her own experiences of growing up in smalltown Ohio, Riegel has found a striking metaphor for the situation many American working class towns find themselves in as their once thriving industrial assets are strip-mined by Chinese businesses, taking the jewellery from the rotting corpses of the rustbelt.

holler review

Barden plays Ruth, a teenager who rarely finds the time to attend school but who has been accepted into college on the strength of her talent. Trouble is, with her father nowhere to be seen and her painkiller-addicted mother (Pamela Adlon) stuck in the county jail, Ruth can't even begin to think about raising the necessary funds for a third level education.

While Ruth dismisses the notion of college, her protective older brother Blaze (Gus Harper) insists on finding a way to get her out of town before rust envelops her own ambitions. The pair accepts a well-paid but highly illegal job in the town's one thriving business, a scrap metal dealership run by the Fagan-esque Hark (Austin Amelio). With so many factories left abandoned in the area, Hark and his crew of misfits are sitting atop a goldmine. Moving into a spare room in Hark's house, Ruth and Blaze are put to work breaking into derelict and sometimes not so derelict properties with the instruction to "follow the wires" and strip any copper they can find.

holler review

In my own life I've had well paid jobs I despised and low paid jobs that were a lot of fun. The difference was the people I worked with. If you're part of a good crew, no job is a chore. This is something Holler understands, as Ruth finds a kinship with Hark and his employees, who spend not only their working days together, but their leisure time, throwing drunken parties and visiting the local skating rink. The danger of course is that you can become comfortable in a job that's beneath your talents, and while Blaze is happy that he's gathering together the money to send his sister to college, he's also worried that she might be enjoying her work a little too much.

As it's based heavily on her own experiences, Riegel's film has an authenticity that steers it away from the realm of "poverty porn." Life is certainly tough for the inhabitants of this corner of America but it's no misery fest. Here are people making the most of the cards they've been dealt and refusing to wallow in their hardship. When we see White working class Americans portrayed on screen it's usually in a negative and stereotypical light because most of the people who make American films don’t come from communities like this.

There's a touching scene in which Ruth is complaining about her mother and a family friend (an excellent Becky Ann Baker) explains that she's simply a victim of the opioid crisis, having become addicted to painkillers prescribed by an unscrupulous doctor. It's easy to roll our eyes when we hear about so many working class Americans having a distrust of science and refusing vaccines, so it's refreshing for a movie to take the time to remind us why this might be the case. These are people who have been consistently betrayed and lied to by the powers that be.

holler review

It's in its final third that Holler begins to lose its footing. The gritty, believable realism takes a turn with a dramatic incident that the film never really reckons with, and it all wraps up with a predictable ending straight out of Good Will Hunting.

Some reviewers have sniffily dismissed Riegel as a Debra Granik imitator, as though there's only room for one female American filmmaker to chronicle working class life. Holler may not fully satisfy in terms of offering an original story but it offers a cast of characters with refreshingly calloused hands, led by a performance from Barden that suggests that much like the young lady she plays here, she has a bright future.

Holler is in US cinemas and on VOD from June 11th. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.

2021 movie reviews