TIFF 2020: “Holler”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

We don’t get to choose in which continent we’re born, what family, parents, grandparents, brothers or sisters we’ll have. We can’t pick and choose the society we want to grow up in. We are just there, wherever we are born, rich or poor, or somewhere in the middle class. But when someone lives in poverty and is raised in a community that believes it does not deserve better, it’s hard to change that individual’s mind until something dramatically happens for things to change.

“Holler” follows siblings, Ruth (Jessica Barden) and Blaze (Gus Halper), who work day and night to make their ends meet. It’s Blaze who has to take care of his younger sister while their mother, Rhonda (Pamela Adlon), struggles with addiction and is often going in and out of jail all the time. Ruth, herself, believes that working is enough to have a sustainable life and for that there is no need for education. But when she becomes a part of a dangerous crew that scours for scrap in metal yards, she gets the chance to see a different reality of her ideal ‘top life’, in a harsh way.

Ruth is a very intelligent young woman. In fact, it is her essay that gets her admitted to college, thanks to her brother who applied on her behalf behind her back. “There is nothing I can learn in college that I cannot learn in here”, Ruth says to her brother when she refuses to go to college. Even their mother, from jail, says, “No Ruth, we are not college people”, which for a weak-minded person would be an ideal response. But as we get to know Ruth, we become so close with her, knowing that she can’t fail herself nor us, the viewers, that have put our trust in her as someone who would make it through.

When the film opens, we hear President Trump’s voice coming from the radio where he promises to bring lots of jobs to Ohio. Jobs, he says, can bring lots of money. Ruth, someone who is capable of having a much better life and get a job better than this, ends up taking it instead of going to college. The job is at a metal yard working with people who would close their eyes if she loses her life at work. That’s the reality of bringing jobs back home, the job President Trump promises. But is it what Ruth needs? Is it something the younger generation needs? Will that kind of job bring them stability in life? No, it does not, it won’t, and “Holler” is proof of that.

Writer and director Nicole Riegel draws a stark image of the American dream, a false dream some follow. She gives everything you would wish for to see in a brother like Blaze. He is an exceptional human being whose noble actions for her sister will bring you to tears. As for Ruth, she is not a dull girl but she is a type of person who has to face a certain level of challenge to grow from there. She obviously wants to earn money for education but hanging out with the wrong people and getting the wrong information can put her in the wrong path. But what “Holler” does is different. In an organic environment, it opens up an opportunity for Ruth and lets her decide what is the best for her. And while she is on her journey, for better or worse, this intelligent and character driven drama will certainly please you with its realistic portrayal of a life that can and should be better than this.

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