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On the Outs Reviews

Lori Silverbush and Michael Skolnik's powerful, documentary-style drama draws on the real-life experiences of "at risk" teenage girls. The lives of three very different young women, all from the same crime- and drug-infested Jersey City neighborhood, briefly intersect when they're sentenced to the same juvenile detention center. At first glance, 15-year-old Suzette (newcomer Anny Mariano), who lives at home with her strict mother (Kamilah Forbes) and younger sister (Raven Hamilton), is the most stable of three, but her life takes a bad turn when she falls for older drug dealer Terrell (Clarence "Don" Hutchinson). When Suzette finds out she's pregnant, she decides to run off with Terrell rather than keep the appointment her mother has made for her at an abortion clinic — a decision with frightening results. Unemployed, 17-year-old single mother Marisol (cocreator Paola Mendoza) is one of Terrell's more desperate customers. She routinely leaves her toddler, Autumn (Autumn Collier), with her ailing great-aunt in order to smoke crack, but when she's hit by a car while high and winds up in the Hudson County Juvenile Detention Center, her worst nightmare becomes a reality: Autumn is placed in foster care. At 17, Oz (RAISING VICTOR VARGAS' Judy Marte) has been in and out of Hudson on a regular basis, mostly for selling crack cocaine. Taking the rap and doing time, however, is just part of the job — a job she needs in order to keep her family together. Oz's mother, Evelyn (Ana "Rok" Garcia), is struggling with heroin addiction, leaving Oz to care for her mentally challenged brother, Chuey (Dominic Colon), and her grandmother, who blames Chuey's brain damage on Evelyn's drug use. When an evening out ends in sudden tragedy, Oz must reassess the damage she's doing by selling drugs to her community. For three months Silverbush, Skolnik and Mendoza visited a New Jersey youth detention center as part of a writing and performing program they developed, and their screenplay is the result of that experience. There's a real-life immediacy to these stories, each of which demands that viewers see beyond such convenient, dehumanizing labels as "drug dealer," "crackhead" and "pregnant teen." The superb acting underplays what could have devolved into cheap histrionics, and Silverbush and Skolnik instinctively know the power of quiet symbolism. Nothing speaks louder about the neglect at the root of these women's misspent lives than the silent Statue of Liberty. Seen through the film only in the background, Lady Liberty's back remains turned to Jersey City as the women spin out of control.