Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Sweaty Betty

Made on the cheap by residents of the neighborhood it depicts, this shaggy pig story offers a lo-fi snapshot of Hyattsville, Maryland, a low-income, predominantly African-American town just outside D.C. As seen through the eyes of teenage friends Scooby (Seth Dubois) and Rico (Rico S.), it’s a lively yet mostly aimless place, peopled with loving parents, loyal friends, and local characters the rest of the community appreciates and supports—like Floyd (Floyd Rich), who’s trying to get his beloved Washington Redskins to make a mascot of his gigantic pet pig, Charlotte.

All the actors, who were encouraged to improvise based on their own lives, seem comfortable and unself-conscious, and their (sometimes subtitled) slangy banter and the largely improvised rhythm of their days feels refreshingly free of Boyz in the Hood-style capital-D drama. But co-directors Joseph Frank and Zachary Reed bent a little too far away from plot in their quest to capture the rhythms of everyday life, winding up with almost no story arc whatsoever.

They surface the perils that ride the coattails of poverty and racial discrimination deftly, though, both through throwaway comments made by the characters and through the animals in the story. Floyd is eager to do something with Charlotte in part because she’s getting too big to easily feed, and a young pit bull Rico and Scooby wind up with goes unfed for far too long, gets lost, and is eyed by a loudmouth who brags about how he could turn it into a fighter by brutalizing it, all over the course of just one or two days with the boys. Their risky situations are an unsettling reminder that poverty can make a life dangerously unstable, even when most of its individual moments are good.

Written for Brooklyn Magazine

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