Written and directed by Niav Conty, it can be brutal enough just growing up a girl, then add poverty, addiction, and God to the mix. Armed with a gun and a prayer, Emma and her cat bravely go where too many girls have gone before. It’s a war, and we gotta win it. Starring: Audrey Grace Marshall, Kevin Loreque, Holter Graham, Dominique Johnson, Maria Hasen, Elissa Middleton, Alice Bennett, Alexanna Brier and Mike Cook.
More often than not, films made about drug use follow the user and the harm it does to their own life, in a refreshing change of pace, Small Time brings an addiction story focused on how it damages their children. Not only that but it manages to take typical Southern American characteristics and present them in a way which doesn’t feel intentionally poking at stereotypes or parody-esque, which while sounding simple, is not an easy thing to pull off. The story is simple but quickly points out just how easily children are abused and mentally scarred in today’s society. It’s disturbing how many abusive and damaging situations Emma (Audrey Grace Marshall) is put in, without second thought from the adults in her life. The story has a grit but it’s understated and is boosted by a constant feel of foreboding and a draining hope.
Niav Conty’s directorial style builds an atmosphere which captures a rural community feel, it’s humble and sad, without trying to cheaply make use of violence or the drug use. There’s a big variety to the shots which helps to balance the everyday tone. However, the pace does move a touch too slowly and the editing creates a non-linear timeline which isn’t strong and the separation between past and present could be clearer. It also could grasp the darker, poignant side of the subject better, even though it’s told from Emma’s perspective, it still feels a little too soft, particularly in its choice of music. However, there is an overall confidence to the style, which is especially shown in its opening which doesn’t attempt to milk a funeral scene for emotion, as many others would have.
The task ahead of Audrey Grace Marshall was definitely not a simple one for a young actress, while the role doesn’t ask for more outward emotion, it does require a certain depth that Marshall brings to the table. She perfectly highlights the dangerous potential Emma’s experiences are holding for her future self. The psychological damage is inherently clear and it becomes almost disturbing to watch at work. Kevin Loreque and Maria Hasen effectively bring a whole host of issues into the mix, particularly their exploration of religion, but they also highlight the good intentions and qualities that hide beneath bad choices and struggles. A delightful surprise is also the actor playing Emma’s only friend, they have an initially sweet chemistry and provide one of the most memorable and jarring moments of the film. It hits the exact note which the rest of the film called out for, something to delve deeper and push harder on this harsh reality.
Small Time attempts a Room style perspective on the opioid crisis, seeing everything through the eyes of its child protagonist. It’s a sad and honest look into how easily the lives of children are impacted by drug use, and the horrendous possibilities it can have for their future, growing up in such a toxic environment. All the performances, much like the tone are humble and down to earth, the atmosphere has a slight edge of discomfort and the direction has a great variety. It’s missing a firmer grasp on the harshness of its story, there’s still a soft layer holding it back slightly. However, it’s a strong sophomore effort from Niav Conty and adds another perspective to the conversation.