45365: Ohio, in All Its Midwestern Mundanity

Taking its name from the hometown zip code of directors Bill and Turner Ross, this documentary portrait of Sydney, Ohio, studiously avoids taking an editorial position on its inhabitants. Is there more to life than high-school football, county fairs, local politics, and passing freight trains? The Ross brothers don't say; they just let their camera run, Frederick Wiseman–style, without bothering to focus on a specific topic. Football (Go Tigers!), high school (American Teen), and door-to-door campaigning (Salesman) can all be quite fascinating, which you'd never know from the five chapters of 45365. The local Top-40 radio station supplies the small-town soundtrack—it's like American Graffiti without the plot. The filmmakers are polite and respectful, and their subjects return the favor: These are ordinary people you meet and instantly forget; this is a place where you visit for 93 minutes and would never want to return. By being so fair and nonjudgmental, the Rosses blind themselves to potential story interest. A tired cop says, "You deal with the adults, and five years later you deal with their children." The next cut is to a young fellow named Justin in court, awaiting sentencing for an assault he threatened earlier in the film (as the camera was caught in an extended, uncomfortable argument between him and his haggard blonde mother). What's his story? The directors turn away, and we never learn the secrets of Sydney.

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