This excellently-crafted film follows the lives of a group of post-high school graduates (or dropouts), late teens and early twenty-somethings for whom college is not an option. There are 4 stories which proceed independently of each other, occasionally passing off the baton from one to the next, but eventually all coming together.
Little Athens is a slice of life in a relatively lifeless environment -- a small town called Athens, but it could be any small town just about anywhere. Certainly, anyone who grew up in such a place knows it well. There isn't a whole lot to do. So you do what you can to get by. These characters' lives are about who you're dating, used to date, or would like to date, who you're cheating on and who's cheating on you, who's doing drugs and who's selling them, getting jobs and getting fired, getting into trouble and staying out of trouble, and trying to figure out who you are in a town where nobody amounts to much unless you leave. Stay and you're stuck, so you may as well make the best of it. In a town with no rock concerts, no sports arena, no dance clubs, no mall, and no multiplex, there's no drama. And when the drama doesn't exist without, you create it from within. Nature abhors a vacuum, so these young people fill the void by creating their own conflicts, because it's so much easier to be discontent than not.
If it sounds sad, well, where there's pity there's sympathy. And where there's sympathy there's comfort. We know these people. And that cuts to the heart of what makes this film what it is -- this brilliant young cast does what good actors are supposed to do -- they make these characters real. You never get the feeling that this is scripted, or has been rehearsed -- and the camera similarly stays out of the way.
Most of the film is shot in widescreen 35MM, as if to emphasize how small these characters are set against the bleak landscape of this town. We are watching them from a distance, just observers, taking it all in and allowing us to slowly invest ourselves in these people. The last portion of the film uses hand-held 16MM, as the four separate story lines come together towards the climax of the film. Now we are there, with them, because now that we know them we are allowed into their world.
The aspects of the film which stand out the most in my mind are the performances and the music. The acting is just spot on. It's always hard to single anyone out in an ensemble cast, but John Patrick Amedori's Jimmy is arguably the most sympathetic character in a film where you tend to feel sorry for everyone. He's perfectly cast -- the story had to have one sometimes sad but hopeful puppy-dog, and he's it.
The other highlight for me was the music, but that's always my weakness. After the acting and the soundtrack comes Tom Zuber's intricate story, told with the luxury of one able to write it, produce it, direct it, and edit it. He should be extremely proud of this work.