A Boy's Life

A Boy's Life


Reviewed by: David Stanners

Serious documentaries are supposed to be topical and in the public interest. If it weren't for the fact that A Boy's Life is set in the bedrock of white trash Mississippi, this would be no more than an extended social services report.

The first thing you notice is the elongated Southern drawls of their "You all this, you all that" style of monologue. Then you notice seven-year-old Robert's 22-year-old 250lb toothless mother Robanna, squawking in the back of the car, with Bible-preaching granny Anna in the driver's seat proclaiming her custody of Robert and his brother. Then you see little Robert on a hyper streak, tearing around the house, only to be calmed by his gran showing him how to load a revolver - one of a stash of six guns. And the thrust of this documentary is the family's enquiry into why Robert has been diagnosed with several behavioural disorders? Not very smart are they?

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Is this satire, or a serious documentary? A bit of both, I guess. We learn Robanna was raped at 15; Anna has had four marriages, several of which lasted a couple of days. We are then introduced to Robert, who seems extremely intelligent, if a bit aggressive. Not really surprising, though. His upbringing is hardly a pillar of comfort and stability, with creepy crawlies, beetles and dogs doing their stuff around the food. But then Anna doesn't seem to realise any of this, as she preaches from the Bible to her daughter and smothers young Robert in her arms declaring her eternal love for him. Scary, or what?

Along come members of the Social Services Dept, much to the disdain of Anna, who clearly believes in her divine right to care for Robert. Having brought him up from birth, she has grown inextricably attached.

The flipside of Robert is demonstrated at school where his behaviour is impeccable and grades commendable. This leads to the conclusion that it is Anna who has been corrupting and exacerbating the boy's condition.

What is interesting is the way she is completely blinded by her actions towards Robert. Her refusal to recognise his intellectual growth, away from her dilapidated household and beguiling ways, proves its point.

The end result is hardly a surprise and the subject matter less than novel. This is not going to raise the profile of small town Mississippi. But then again, with behavior such as this, they can hardly complain about bad press.

Reviewed on: 27 Jul 2003
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Documentary about a dysfunctional boy and his family in small town Mississippi.

Director: Rory Kennedy, Liz Garbus, Nick Doob

Year: 2002

Runtime: 77 minutes

Country: US


EIFF 2003

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