Sollers Point (Porterfield, 2017)

Sollers Point is a slice of life—a life that has taken a wrong turn and is trying to get back on track. We’ve seen films of this kind before, most recently the Safdie brothers’ Good Time from last year; while Sollers Point lacks their aggressive stylization, it is no less effective in showing how certain socioeconomic forces and displacement from beneficial support systems can pull those trying to leave crime back into its maw. Keith (played by a magnetic McCaul Lombardi) seems adamant to reassure everyone he meets that he’s trying to get back on his feet and start anew. He’d have every reason to say so, for he’s just finished a year’s worth of house arrest for dealing drugs. When he meets with his grandmother (Lynn Cohen), she tries to convince him to go back to school and gain the footing needed to live a productive life. Keith, however, is doubtful, and thinks a job is the best way to go. There is an unspoken sense of doubt within him that prevents him from striving for his grandmother’s goals, perhaps because he knows that he is still beholden to his past life. It seems like a stillborn fear at first, and Lombardi does a good job of making Keith’s proclamations of reform incredibly earnest. But slowly, as the film evolves, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Keith can’t stay away from the shady lot he used to hang with. His feet are always taking him back to the same houses; his temper remains volatile and treacherous, ready to inflict revenge against every wrong he suffers. The tragedy is that he only knows the world of before, not the world that is to come.

Predictably, the main complaint people seem to have about this film is that “nothing happens.” Such is the case for any film that trusts its main character to move the narrative, rather than vice versa. It’s a silly complaint because a lot does happen, and it only seems otherwise because the action is limited to Keith’s interactions. Not all of them are especially eventful, like when he picks up his ex-girlfriend’s lawnmower from a repair shop. Hoping for a fresh start, he has no choice but to go through a more mundane routine. Naturally, when it’s apparent that the call of the old ways is too tempting, his day becomes much more colourful. The film shifts into something more urgent. What is striking is that, the more the action is delineated, the sadder the film becomes, because none of it is good for Keith. Anything remotely eventful only drives him further and further backwards.

And so, what is left is not a happy film. Keith makes no progress. The people around him continue to doubt his capacity to turn his life around. There is no evidence to suggest that he will turn things around past the end credits. His only hope, Porterfield implies, is that he leave his Baltimore neighbourhood and never look back, because nothing good will come from his staying there. A depressing realization, since leaving the place you grew up in is not an easy prospect. For some people, though, it is the only option. Sollers Point gives you 101 hard minutes of pain as evidence that this can be for the best.