A Place at the Table (Magnolia Pictures)
Macaroni Grill’s humble origins.
(Magnolia Pictures)

The filmmaking team of Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush examine domestic hunger in their latest documentary, A Place at the Table.  Following the basic blueprint of modern non-fiction works, the directors weave together talking heads, snazzy graphics, and on-the-ground footage to largely successful ends.  With a pressing social issue at its forefront, the film informs with style yet plays so heavily to those already supportive of its message that the information rarely feels as provocative as it portends.  As such, the overall aim seems incomplete and lacks the kind of even-handed proposals necessary to inspire widespread reform.

On this topic, The Dude does not abide. (Magnolia Pictures)
On this topic, The Dude does not abide.
(Magnolia Pictures)

Focusing on families in Philadelphia, Colorado, and Mississippi, the film’s personal side gives a compelling face to food insecurity.  Parents work low-paying jobs, are unable to afford healthy food, and serve their families processed junk that leads to a wealth of problems.  The story isn’t particularly new and neither are the cinematic techniques used to tell it, but they nonetheless produce a high level of discomfort and ire.  Fueling its fire are a respectable number of experts and organizers, celebrity activists Jeff Bridges and Top Chef host Tom Colicchio, plus shots of Michelle Obama in the White House garden with underprivileged youngsters.  Fortified by polished statistical graphics in the vein of docs like Inside Job and Last Call at the Oasis, the extent of the problem connects on multiple levels…at least for those who believe government should be the ones to eradicate the epidemic.

Rosie, please put the kitty down. (Magnolia Pictures)
Rosie, I know what you’re thinking,
but please put the nice kitty down.
(Magnolia Pictures)

Wagging fingers at politicians and a broken system for not providing sufficient assistance to those in need, A Place at the Table remains largely on the issue’s surface.  Hampered by a lack of flow, the narrative jumps from one person to the next with poor transitions, thereby limiting the depth the subjects demand.  The story of single Philadelphia mother of two Barbie Izquierdo is the most well-developed, but scenes from her rough life paired with head-shaking facts and figures are simply not enough to reverse these dire fortunes.

Without delving into the means by which Barbie and the other subjects came to be in their current predicaments, the filmmakers skirt the kinds of difficult questions whose solutions are more likely to garner bi-partisan support.  So blinded by hunger issues are Jacobson and Silverbush that they barely touch on poverty and other factors that lead to necessitating government assistance.  Instead of getting to the true root of the problem, the film merely lambasts Washington and demands greater funding, thereby perpetuating the political divide as opposed to seeking balanced solutions that appeal to both sides of the aisle.

 (Magnolia Pictures)
An advertisement for the fine documentary Bag It.
(Magnolia Pictures)

No one wants to see people go hungry, but the effectiveness of this choir-preaching approach has its limits.  Though A Place at the Table presents irrefutable evidence on one of the United States’ greatest ills, the film merely raises awareness and offers an idealistic answer.  To do justice to a topic of hunger’s severity, a deeper probe is necessary.

Grade: B-

Rated PG for thematic elements and brief mild language.

A Place at the Table is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DKOiT1vY7v0]

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