Louder Than a Bomb: Teen Poets Endorsed by Oprah

Hoop Dreams meets American Idol. If you're sick of poetry slams already, if you have no patience for tales of teen uplift, stay away from this documentary by Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel. Celebrating four high-school contestants in Chicago's 2008 Louder Than a Bomb slam (whose sponsorship and origins are left completely unexplained), the Oprah-endorsed doc frankly aims to raise whoops and cheers of admiration. Two black kids come from poor homes and troubled families; one girl is mixed-race and angry about her absent father; last is a cheerful, privileged, goofy Jewish hippie who plays flute in the hallways of his school. Are they likable? Of course they're likable. But only one of their respective high-school teams can win the LTAB competition, yielding a proven, Spellbound-like dramatic structure. The filmmakers enjoy excellent access to these families and schools, though they underline every setback and triumph with too heavy a crayon. There are too many rounds of poetry, too many hugs, but it's impossible not to root for these kids, to be moved by their persistence over adversity (well, in three of four cases). Also, the film is a great rebuttal to that unfairly stacked, blame-the-teachers doc Waiting for Superman. Here we see wonderfully patient, supportive educators working with limited resources and some often difficult pupils. "This is my biggest pride," says the team coach at a giant South Side educational institution. "This school needs something uplifting." And who can argue with that?

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