Under Review: ‘Putty Hill’


This is a glimpse at the underside of American youth where the disengaged, disconnected, drug-doped undertow of the depressed and depraved self-destruct. Listless floaters, they exist without drive, joy or inspiration. When one of them dies no one cries, not even Mom.

This is a vision of an America where the twenty-somethings shuffle through an ambitionless, meaningless existence leaching off their single mothers and selling drugs to make a dime. They dwell in the slums of depression, hopelessness and boredom. Drugs provide their self-indulgent comfort and relief.

This is also Matt Porterfield’s inspired creation, a faux reality enterprise, with interviews intermixed to simulate “Survivor” inside info. You see experiments with sound, light, minimalist violin notes and spider web metaphor photo opps. No one appears to be a professional actor because they all seem a little self-conscious and uncomfortable in front of the camera.

The situation is that a guy named Cory has died of an overdose. No one admits to knowing him very well – they just knew who he was. For 48 hours this troupe of ne’er-do-wells, along with Cory’s mother, are followed as they gather for Cory’s memorial service. A DJ has been hired, guests participate in karaoke performances and pitchers of beer are served.

Trying to navigate the way from the karaoke memorial gathering to Cory’s house that few had ever visited, his sister, Jenny, asks her friend, “You kinda have an idea where we’re going?” The friend replies, “Kinda.”

And that kinda sums up the film. It’s about people with little direction in life, the young Americans whose identity has been stunted and camouflaged by early exposure to drugs and dysfunctional home lives.

Even though Jenny and her friend eventually locate Cory’s house, it has little there for them. Jenny, clad in ripped-off, too-short jeans with pocket liners hanging down her legs, surveys the bare house with some strewn newspapers and a mattress on the floor. She lights up her cigarette and says, “I don’t understand how you can allow yourself to get to a point like this.”

The audience will be wondering the same thing about Jenny and everyone else in this depressing movie.

Roger Ebert gave this film four stars, his highest rating. He writes that “Putty Hill” is an honest depiction of a certain spectrum of American society. Perhaps the viewer will also recognize that “Putty Hill” is a faux doc that depicts the sociological phenomenon, very possibly worldwide, of what happens to young adults who have grown up using drugs.

“Putty Hill” has its US premiere in New York City Feb. 18 to 24. It opens in Baltimore on March 4 and in LA on April 8.

Film Information

Web site:
Written and Directed by Matt Porterfield
From a Scenario by Matt Porterfield & Jordan Mintzer
Cast: Sky Ferreira, Zoe Vance, James Siebor, Jr., Dustin Ray
Cody Ray, Charles “Spike” Sauers, Catherine Evans, Virginia Heath
Casey Weibust, Drew Harris
World Premiere: 2010 Berlin International Film Festival
Award: Cinema Eye Heterodox Award honoring a narrative film that imaginatively incorporates nonfiction strategies

87min | Color | DVCPRO HD | 1.78:1 | Stereo | USA | 2010

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