Sunday, May 18, 2008
"On the Outs"
As any honest media person will tell you, one of the great perks of being in the business is free stuff. Lots of it. Books, CDs, DVDs and more pour in unsolicited, their makers hoping to get even the slightest mention of their work in print or on air, anything to help it stand out from the thousands of other releases out there.
The down side? Lots of free stuff. More than one person could ever conceivably read or watch or listen to. It piles up in the mail like some great always-growing beast. The sheer volume of material keeps you from getting to most of it. You put things aside for further consideration and sometimes you get back to them. More often than not, you don't.
In 2006, Warner Home Video sent me a DVD of the independent film ON THE OUTS, which had gotten a brief theatrical release the previous year. I was intrigued enough by the box copy and review blurbs to add it to the To Be Watched pile. There it languished, constantly superseded by newer releases, until last week.
My loss. ON THE OUTS is an absolutely stunning first feature by co-directors Lori Silverbush and Michael Skolnick. Filmed on location in Jersey City, N.J., it follows the intersecting stories of three troubled teenage girls. At 15, Suzette (Anny Mariano) has been sheltered from the streets by her hardworking mother - until she falls under the spell of a charming 25-year-old thug. Marisol (co-creator Paola Mendoza) is a 17-year-old single mom trying to raise her two-year-old daughter and battling a drug addiction. And Oz (Judy Marte, above, left, in an extraordinary performance) is a teenage crack dealer, struggling to care for her mentally retarded brother and hold her own fragile family together.
Silverbush and Skolnick based their film on real cases and people they encountered while taking part in a three-month workshop at the Hudson County Juvenile Detention Center in Secaucus, N.J. And it shows. Nearly every second of ON THE OUTS crackles with authenticity. It carries the same charge as Martin Scorsese's MEAN STREETS, but without that film's bravura theatricality. For much of its length, ON THE OUTS feels like a documentary, an intimate look into the lives of everyday people struggling to survive, but gradually being pulled down by the environment around them.
Not that there isn't hope to be found here. At the end of their respective storylines, all three girls encounter traumatic events that make them reassess their lives. Will they escape from the cycles that have so limited them? ON THE OUTS leaves that question unanswered. But you'll be thinking about those girls - and this film - for a long time to come.