On The Outs (2004)

You’re probably sitting there, thinking “On the Outs” is a good enough film, and even though it’s fiction, probably need a conventional plot. As for me, I sat there and had to stop it four times before finishing. For you it’s fiction, but for me in New York, it’s about as realistic as it gets. “On the Out” may be fiction, but explored is a world that’s hardly withdrawn my own. Taking a run in Sundance, “On the Outs” is quite possibly one of the best depictions of inner-city life, and young adults set down a path of doom consistently, with no hope of getting out of it.

“On the Outs” is a term used referring to life outside the Juvenile detention center our three characters drift in and out of. I was very skeptical about this film, especially since films that depict “urban life” really just don’t get it right. They’re too commercial, too typical, too cliché. “On the Outs” is none of them. I’ve seen this happen, I’ve lived through it, and I’ve known people like this. “On the Outs” is about as close to reality as possible without becoming a documentary. Filmed in an appropriately gritty style, “On the Outs” chronicles the lives of three different girls in the same ghettos who constantly pass one another and are headed down paths they may never return from. Marisol is a drug addicted mom who fails in every aspect in taking care of her child and is unable to resist the temptation, even leaving her daughter home alone one day. Suzette is a gullible young girl who has sex with a man and ends up pregnant.

After she runs away with him, she takes the rap for a crime he’s committed, and is sent into Juvenile detention. Oz is a drug dealing Lesbian who is always in and out of Juvenile detention. After a tragedy in her life, she begins re-examining her situation and discovers she needs a change. The three pictured here are three characters all too familiar to viewers that have grown up in the ghettos of New York, and all three actors play the characters with utter effectiveness and raw realism. Paola Mendoza is excellent as a drug addict who only keeps sliding deeper and deeper into her hole, as she attempts to win back her daughter who is being put up for adoption. She’s insistent on proving to superiors that she’s living straight and has quit her life as an addict, yet can’t quite resist the temptation she walks into intentionally.

Meanwhile Judy Marte, previously seen in the excellent “Raising Victor Vargas,” is a stand out as Oz. She’s probably the most complex and fascinating character of the trio. A young girl born from a drug addicted mom, yet she herself is a drug dealer. As a paradox, she’s a girl smart enough not stay away from drugs, she’s smart enough not to commit a murder, yet somehow always ends up back into the detention center doing hard time. Marte embodies the character of Oz, this tough talking young girl who instantly fits into lock down, and hangs out at street corners ogling women, yet can’t quite take control of her crack head mother who slips in and out of her habit, her mentally disabled brother anxious to show he’s a gangster who is her only link into salvation, and a grandmother who has completely given up on them all.

Marte, who is still gorgeous, gives a truly powerful performance, and is one of the many highlights of Skolnik and Silverbush’s film. “On the Outs”–much like “Our Song,” and “Angel Rodriguez,” all films that paint inner city life and the young people headed down a horrible path–doesn’t have a conventional plot. There are no villains, no feel good climaxes, there’s just these three young girls living their lives, and self-destructing on every street corner; lives without a future, a purpose, or a direction. And the directors strive for pure grit and utter realism, and succeed with what I can describe as a truly brilliant piece of filmmaking. Skolnik and Silverbush tack down pure meaningless lives of futility, crime, and consequences in the realistic backdrop of New York city, better than any film I’ve ever seen. It’s raw, it’s gritty, and it’s excellent.


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