In Micah Magee’s feature-film debut, a high school graduate must make some adult decisions when life throws her a succession of curve balls that threaten to narrow her choices and upend her already tenuous circumstances.
Layla (Devon Keller) goes to school in San Antonio and lives with her grandmother on the lower spectrum of the working class, that is when she’s not crashing at her boyfriend Danny’s ramshackle drug den. But she’s no burnout. An honors student who just got a scholarship to UT-Austin, Layla is poised to fly the coop. So when she finds out she’s pregnant, it looks like all bets are off. Shunned and shamed by her conservative parents and surrounded by ne’er-do-well relatives and friends, she ends up working at a Denny’s.
It may read like a familiar tale, one you’ve seen a few times before. But the devil’s in the details and it’s to the film’s credit that Petting Zoo gets those details right every single time. Whether it’s the spot-on, nonsensical conversations of stoners sprawled across a living room; the soul-sucking, endless routine of working in a crappy diner; or an intimate, cathartic moment cuddling with a cat, Magee’s direction illuminates both the hope and the drudgery that cumulatively amass as we make decisions that irrevocably alter our lives, whether we realize it or not. Reminiscent of the films of Victor Nuñez and the early works of Allison Anders, Petting Zoo is an indie that transcends whatever baggage you might associate with that word.
Thursday, March 19, 1:15pm, Topfer
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