Small Time Image

Small Time

By Bradley Gibson | November 12, 2021

Writer/director Niav Conty’s Small Time is the story of Emma (Audrey Grace Marshall), a strong, intelligent child coming of age surrounded by profoundly damaged adults. We meet Emma at her grandfather’s funeral, who was her caregiver. She lost him on the same day she reunited with her addict mother Jessie (Dominique Johnson), who took her home. Because no child care is available, Emma spends her days at the convenience store where her mom works. Jessie keeps herself together for a short time, and Emma enjoys getting to know her again. We see flashbacks to other good times they had through the years.

However, Jessie relapses and nearly dies of an overdose one day. Emma happens across Jessie’s ex-boyfriend Rick (Holter Graham), who asks how Jessie is. When Emma tells him she’s been asleep all day, he’s able to get to her just in time. When Jessie is taken away in an ambulance, Emma winds up staying with Rick and his crazy friends. They are troubled people in a dark place. She sees wild parties and substance abuse all around her.

When it’s clear that Jessie won’t be able to look after her, Emma lands with her father, Lonnie (Kevin Loreque), who suffers horrible PTSD. He acts out violently against his family at times. He also lives with his mother, Sadie (Maria Hasen), a religious fanatic who believes all troubles come from any distance from her particular version of a deity. In her mind, all Emma needs is a closer walk with God.

“…Jessie relapses…Emma winds up staying with Rick and his crazy friends.”

The setting of Small Time is a horrific cautionary tale of flyover America. A chaotic nightmare of guns, drugs, poverty, and religious fundamentalism make up her daily life. The only person she had any stability with was her grandfather, and his death triggered a series of terrible experiences for her. Naturally, despite Emma’s native intelligence and strong will, she begins to exhibit behavior that points to her going down the same road as her parents and their friends.

The story’s silver lining is that she’s young, and we can choose to believe the character somehow made it out of the hillbilly hell she was raised in. We can hope she’s gone on to have a peaceful, joyful life. However, given the flashbacks and the fact that there’s no single narrative throughline, one can imagine that these scenes are all Emma’s memories as she looks back on her life from an adulthood the viewer isn’t shown.

Conty said in an interview with The Female Gaze that a memory of her childhood inspired Small Time. She spent three years making it on a small budget, and the outcome is a quality film with beautiful cinematography, a moving soundtrack, and solid performances from the cast. Even though she is so young, Audrey Grace Marshall carries the production with grace and talent.

Small Time is an engaging viewing experience but not a happy one. Viewers will spend the whole film fervently hoping this kid and her kitten find a safe, sane place to grow up. It’s clear enough, however, that the environment seeps in, and soon enough, Emma could be as much responsible for perpetuating an unseemly life as the adults around her are now.

Small Time (2021)

Directed and Written: Niav Conty

Starring: Audrey Grace Marshall, Kevin Loreque, Holter Graham, etc.

Movie score: 7/10

Small Time Image

"…a horrific cautionary tale of flyover America."

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