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Holler (2020) – Review: An Authentic and Confident Film That Features a Standout Performance From Jessica Barden

August 18, 2021

Quick Thoughts: – Grade – A –  Holler tells a funny, unique, and confident coming-of-age story that feels authentic and unpredictable. 

Directed and written by Nicole Riegel, Holler is an excellent coming-of-age story that focuses on a high schooler named Ruth (Jessica Barden) stuck between her life in the rural town of Jackson, Ohio, and potentially going to college, and leaving her older brother Blaze (Gus Harper) and drug-addicted mother (Pamela Adlon) behind. The best thing about Holler is that it eschews melodramatic plotlines, and doesn’t look down on the residents of Jackson. You can tell that Riegel grew up in the area because she gives the town and its surrounding areas complete authenticity, and doesn’t lean into idealized small town life, or “holy crap, this place is terrible,” vibes. Most importantly, Riegel has made a movie that doesn’t go where you’d expect, and despite some familiar situations, the movie goes to places that feel new and fresh. 

The casting is spot-on too, as Barden who has been putting in solid work in movies like The Lobster, Hanna, and Mindhorn (Capoeira!), carries the film on her shoulders with an effortless ease (which must’ve been a lot of work, because she’s so good). On paper, Ruth feels familiar as she’s a smart kid who desperately needs to leave her hometown, but she’s hesitant to leave because of her family (who want her to go to college). However, she’s an entirely new creation because she takes no sh*t, is fine with thievery, and is comfortable in both scrap yards and libraries. Barden drew on her working class background to find the character, and you can tell she loves Ruth, because she plays with her smarts, resilience, and naivety. 

The movie centers around Ruth and her brother Blaze being hired by Hark (Austin Amelio – watch Everybody Wants Some!!), the owner of a local scrap yard, who needs help bringing in more scrap. Their well-paying job is to strip abandoned businesses, homes or warehouses of iron, copper, steel, cables and anything else that can be sold. The job is dangerous and illegal, and they occasionally find themselves hiding from armed owners or security guards who don’t want their precious copper pipes being stolen. It’s dangerous work that really has no long-term future, but Blaze plans on making enough to catch up on late bills, and make sure Ruth can head to college. In other movies, there would be shoot-outs, foot chases, and dangerous men, however, Holler largely avoids the obvious and instead focuses heavily on the resilience of Ruth. It’s neat watching her read books that she hides in the scrap yards, or watching her find creative places to sleep to get out of the bitter Ohio winter cold. Also, the location selection is inspired, as local roller rinks (the pizza they are eating looks like roller rink pizza – it’s neat), scrap yards, and functioning plants are used to maximum effect, and add to the realness of the movie.

If you get a moment, check out this interview that Barden and Riegel did with RogerEbert.com. It’s an enlightening read, and well worth your time.  

Final Thoughts – Watch Holler and appreciate the unique and confident storytelling.

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