Small Time may not be an inherently unique film—retracing the familiar and well-tread beats that accompany a film set in rural, opioid-plagued America—but it is unique in centering its story around a young girl coming of age surrounded by adults who fail her. Oftentimes children are more of an afterthought in these narratives. But no one is redeemable in this script, not even Emma (Audrey Grace Marshall).
Small Time Has a Strong Cast, But Unredeemable Story
Emma is met with hardship after hardship: her grandfather returns her to her opioid addict mother, her grandfather dies, her mother overdoses, she’s at the mercy of her mother’s ex-boyfriend—a fellow addict and dealer—only to be pawned off to her birth father who is an addict on top of his dangerous war-driven PTSD, her father’s mother instills her with ultra-Christian ideas, while her father peddles dangerous racist ideologies that she acts out against a Muslim boy in her class, and creepy men mistake the middle schooler for a prostitute at the local ice cream parlor. An all-too-real look at rural America, but at the same time too much all-at-once.
While Emma’s story is a familiar and all too realistic plight, there are elements of this film that felt, perhaps, too on the nose, and perhaps that discomfort was an intentional construct of the script.
Small Time makes some interesting choices that make it hard to quantify as a “good” film, but what it does do well is give Audrey Grace Marshall material to prove what an incredibly talented young actress she is. She tackles extremely complex and difficult topics with ease, securing her place on any list of young actresses to watch.
As the opioid crisis continues to sweep through America, there will be a shortage of films and series that highlight the plights of oft-forgotten rural victims, but Small Time adds nothing new to the body of existing work. It is remarkable only for its cast, who master the archetypes one comes to expect from this particular topic.
I understand what Small Time was trying to achieve with the choices that it made, but the last act takes such a hard right that it makes it almost impossible for me to write anything close to a truly positive review. There is so much I did love about it—the cinematography is gorgeous, the direction is solid, and the entire cast masterfully tackles an indomitable topic—but ultimately after being made to root for Emma for most of the movie, I felt betrayed by her quick shift into childhood sociopathy. Her actions are symptomatic of the culture she is being raised in, but what she did to the boy (Sina Rassi) felt gratuitous.