Common Sense Media: American Street Kid movie review

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American Street Kid

Movie review by Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media


This is a wrenching, painful, twisting climb with many drops into oblivion, but there are occasional success stories that make the journey worthwhile. You're rooting hard for these kids, who are living in such harrowing circumstances, often just trying to survive after being abandoned or chased out of everywhere else. But the experience of watching American Street Kid comes with a major cinematic caveat: It's not a traditional documentary. It doesn't conform to narrative or journalistic standards, which creates an unintentional distance between viewer and subject. The filmmaker becomes the main character, though not to the look-at-me-look-at-me level of someone like Morgan Spurlock. As the movie's tagline asserts, it "begins as a documentary," meaning Leoni quickly abandons all pretense of objective observation and bonds with his subjects. In a way, the film is about how he can't turn away from what he finds.


The kids' stories are compelling. One wants badly to be a father, though he has no plan to get himself and his pregnant girlfriend off the street. Another is a talented singer, who's obviously intelligent but can't seem to shake the emotional effects of being abandoned as an infant. "I wish there was a hero," he sings, "There doesn't seem to be." Though Leoni's actions, including taking several of the kids into his home, aren't practical examples for most who want to help, the film could shine a light on an overlooked issue in America (as did the indie gem Lean on Pete). But be warned: Although there are uplifting turns to some of the stories, most can be represented by this exchange: Kid: "I feel bad for you." Leoni: "Why do you feel bad for me?" Kid: "Because there's no hope for us."