Monrovia, Indiana (NR)

Documentary 143 min. December 7, 2018
By Alan Scherstuhl
Look, the good people of Monrovia, Indiana, wouldn't show up to see a quiet, observational movie about your life. But thanks to your curiosity, decency and cosmopolitanism, you might have interest and access to watching Frederick Wiseman's film about theirs. It won't tell you much you wouldn't have guessed already. This farm town is quiet, home to folks of an aging population who gab at the cafe about their physical therapy, and a planning commission eager to find any excuse it can to stop builders from adding 150 new homes to a subdivision.

The granaries and silos still do some business, and the hog farm is horizon-wide, its pens as dense with squealing swine as the ball pit at a McDonald's playground is with well-germed plastic. Ever patient and always attentive to local history, Wiseman shows us a funeral, a touch-and-go school band concert, a grisly operation at a vet's office, the gaudy stillness of a rural grocery store, an all-ages aerobics class and the crushing bore that is a Freemason ceremony.

The film's most arresting, revealing passages concern that local planning board. Some board members fear a subdivision's inevitable expansion -- and, in one member's vague phrase, "demographic change." No one presses him on what that means, though another board member insists that the police are already called out to that subdivision almost once a day. Wiseman doesn't engage with immigration or migrant labor in his town portrait, which helps make Monrovia, Indiana a stubborn entry into his canon. Many of his subjects are invested in the continuity of what they perceive of as a timeless American normalcy, but they're too polite -- and cagey -- to say what that means on camera.
Frederick Wiseman

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