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OT: Our Town


OT: Our Town


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Early in the documentary OT: Our Town, the students at Dominguez High School in Compton admit that most of the clichés about their home are true: It's rife with drugs and gang-bangers, and their school is a place where riots are common, sports represent the only important extracurricular activity, and most "boot-strap" programs peter out before they get a foothold. But the kids are still kids: They're bright, goofy, and cynical, and unlike the sullen, standoffish types in the Hollywood version of inner-city schools, these students are vibrant, lit-up, and sharpened by the ingenuity they've had to display in dealing with broken families and diminished expectations. OT: Our Town is about the attempt of two teachers and a handful of students to mount a production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town, and though teenagers may be fundamentally the same all over the country, the question the film asks is whether Wilder's abstract Americana, intended to apply to any community, has any relevance in a place far away from farmland. That's a can't-miss premise, and director Scott Hamilton Kennedy doesn't botch it. He may over-explain both Our Town and his own "People are people" message, but the aggressive push to uplift is excusable because OT: Our Town is zippily edited, rushing through the six-week period from read-through to opening night in just over an hour. So while Kennedy's ultimate point may be boldfaced, dozens of smaller insights rush by as glimpses, like how some of the kids are pretty good actors, and how almost all of them are making the most of a rare chance to show the rest of the school what makes them unique, and how they all seem to understand the traps of sex and drugs and suicide that keep their peers in check (though some of them will likely fail anyway). It's the most obvious point that actually rings truest: that Wilder's sketchy vision of life, love, and death is as funny and moving as it ever was, provided that the people performing it believe what they're saying. And just as OT: Our Town provides a deeper understanding of the kids in Compton, so the kids in Compton get to understand how Middle America dreams and dies, all the same.