With so many “issue” documentaries being cranked out annually, it’s easy to be suspicious of certain films’ validity, not to mention picky in regard to whether or not they’re worth your time. “A Place at the Table,” a hunger-crisis doc from the distributors of “Food, Inc.,” falls somewhere in the middle of the scale, putting the spotlight on an urgent, provocative topic, but revealing banalities and lapses in good taste along the way.
Directed by Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush, and produced by Tom Colicchio (“Top Chef”) and Jeff Bridges (who’s been championing hunger prevention for decades), the movie points out that 50 million Americans, many of them children, don’t know from where they’re going to get their next meal. Using their creation as a call for action, the filmmakers make a strong case for U.S. policy change on food availability (certain subjects in rural towns have next to no produce access) and deftly combat the controversial stigma surrounding government handouts (regardless of who deserves them, food stamp allowances are near-impossible to live on).
“A Place at the Table” certainly aims to make you feel as though you’ve gained ample insight, and some of its subjects, like native Philadelphian and struggling single mom Barbie, put a genuine, cheer-worthy human face on the crisis. But it’s also another nonfiction movie that bombards one with statistics and countless talking-head experts, the mess of which occasionally adds up to a lack of cohesion and coherence. It’s a tactic that, at this point, is beyond formulaic, and the excess, in all its strained force, has a way of crippling the central argument.
In general, the film falls short of being remarkable, checking off the documentary must-haves instead of transcending them. Opening aerial shots of landscapes boast epic promise, but that’s about where the formal beauty ends, and one key figure, a Colorado fifth-grader named Rosie, is permitted to jump the boundary between sympathetic character and cloying sympathy ploy. This is a noble movie that deserves to be seen, but it needed more focus, more finesse and less on its plate.
Two-and-a-half reels out of four
Opens tomorrow at the Ritz at the Bourse
It couldn’t beat “Brave” for the Best Animated Feature Oscar, but “Wreck-It Ralph” trumps Pixar’s girl-power tale in the newfangled-fun department, offering an immersive world of video game nostalgia, and revealing its titular villain as a redemption-bound teddy bear at heart. Not a great computer-graphics-toon, but a solid, amusing one, “Wreck-It Ralph” includes the voices of John C. Reilly and Jane Lynch.
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