Warning: this film will cut you deep. It is heartbreaking, it is real, it may hit too close to home and it may open your eyes to the reality of poverty in the United States.
The film is set in the small town of Rich Hill, Missouri, a historic coal mining town that was bustling after World War II, but like many mining towns in the United States the coal depleted.
After the town’s main economic vein of coal mining dried up, so did the town’s population.
The population declined every decade until the last census before the film was released, which estimated only around 1,300 people.
In the town of Rich Hill, the plot for the documentary revolves around three boys: 15-year-old Harley, 13-year-old Andrew and 12-year-old Appachey.
These three boys are like any other boys you’d meet — they’re funny, they love to be with friends and they have big dreams.
“I want to be an art teacher in China,” Appachey told one director. “In China, you get to draw cool stuff like dragons.”
Despite their superficial normalcy, the documentary shows the hard lives these boys have had.
Harley’s story is particularly heart wrenching. His mother went to prison for a crime that will turn your morals inside out, and the fact that his mother is in prison has clearly affected every part of his life, especially school.
Harley doesn’t have many friends at school and frequently leaves in the middle of the school day because he would rather be at home with his grandmother and extended family.
Harley still manages to get a laugh out of people here and there. Talking to the filmmakers and directors, he said, “Are you guys coming to film at school today? No wait –you guys need your sleep don’t you?”
With Andrew, we see the sad story of a boy, who at times acts more adult-like and responsible than his parents.
His mother is addicted to drugs and spends one of the best days of Andrew’s life unconscious because she had taken too much. His father does his best to hold the family together.
There’s one scene in the documentary in which Andrew’s father is trying to figure out a way to give his children a hot bath because they don’t have a water heater.
Despite this, there is still something tragic about the way Andrew’s father has good intentions, but it frustrates you as a viewer.
And then there’s Appachey — who has a heartbreaking ending in this story.
He grew up without a father and his troubled life shows in the way he interacts with his peers — often bullying others.
His mother is one of the most straightforward people in this documentary.
I can’t write vividly enough to show you how these boys live and how they feel.
I highly recommend it, but have tissues on hand.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.