Occasionally a movie appears that sets aside the traditional constraints of plot, dialogue and structure in favor of a much more powerful set of components. In the case of On The Outs, plot is replaced with harsh realism, dialogue substituted out for painful, honest emotion and structure bulldozed aside in favor of raw dramatic energy. The result is a story that is excruciatingly beautiful. You don’t watch it, you endure it and only by fighting it at every turn can you not be changed by it. The exhaustion you feel at the end is mournful and unsatisfying but the experience is oddly precious and irreplaceable.
The lives of three girls are loosely knitted together by the bonds of inner city life. Oz is a teenager, daughter to a crack addict, sister to a brother who was born a crack baby. Street-wise and fiercely loyal, she’s too smart to do drugs but is trapped by the notion that dealing them is her only way to survive. Marisol is both a loving teen mother and devoted addict. When her ignorant paradox of a life finally implodes and her daughter is taken into state’s care, she finds herself unprepared to deal with the long brewing consequences of her decisions. Suzette is a sweet and innocent fifteen year old whose naïve tryst with a neighborhood dealer results in pregnancy. Fearing the consequences she runs away from home in a vain effort to live the life of a drug man’s girlfriend.
All three girls face the inevitable results of wanting desperately to love but choosing to ignore the cost of loving the wrong things. Each is up against a rough set of circumstances but there are no absolute and helpless victims here. Brighter prospects are present but never easy. There are also no simple situations or happy resolutions, only the brief opportunities and stiff consequences of a real life that most movies rarely bother to portray.
I found myself torn between pitying the characters in their difficult situations and being angry with them for the choices they make. It was a strange sensation. This wasn’t the traditional emotional manipulation that Hollywood employs and to which I’ve grown accustomed. There’s no moving score to heighten the mood, simply the soul shattering screams of women being torn at the heart.
Judy Marte, who made a stunning debut in Raising Victor Vargas, gives a visceral and passionate performance as the troubled Oz. Her roots are firmly set in this sort of urban story telling and she captures every moment brilliantly. Paola Mendoza, who plays the conflicted Marisol, is by far the most accomplished actress of the trio. She perfectly embodies every aspect of her character from mother to addict. Anny Mariano’s portrayal of Suzette’s childhood innocence is charming and heart breaking.
The movie’s strength lies in its unpolished honesty. The production values are low budget and the talents of the supporting cast don’t always pass muster, but the heart behind the effort more than makes up for it. This is a film that will likely struggle in theaters because of the demands it places on its audience. On The Outs is guerilla storytelling on a profound level and offers no real solutions to the problems it addresses, only the hope that its young protagonists might someday grasp a real escape from the world’s cyclical trap.