The documentary takes a comprehensive survey of class from polo benefits in the Hamptons, a tight-knit Kentucky Appalachia community and blue-collar Baltimore. It features interviews with gossip columnists and writers, such as the viciously witty class-critic Joe Queenan, who takes viewers on a scathing tour of the Williams-Sonoma inventory, and a violent debate in Vermont between a self-righteous middle-class that wants to foist an overpriced food co-op on their working-class neighbors, who respond with rage and an understandable sense of injustice.
The film deals with a subject no one can not take personally, and many of the commentators assembled for the film re-examine the still-raw wounds of their own class upbringing. There are some wooden elements to be sure, like a dry male narration that is a surprisingly retrograde feature in so incisive a film. The film is also deeply painful and cruel in its examination of the horrible wounds of class humiliation. For instance, an Ohio woman who walks 10 miles to work at Burger King is heckled as a "trashy bitch" by strangers and is an embarrassment to her upwardly mobile son.
Equally disturbing, though for entirely different reasons, is a to-the-manor-born WASP who takes vicious, crow-like bites at the working class and social arrivistes who he thinks have infiltrated his moneyed ranks with their "ugliness." Andrew Kolker's film takes class very seriously, and the people he interviews prove remarkably shrewd about how class plays out in their own lives. It succeeds in illustrating the cruelty of the unequal playing field that haunts many Americans from the day they are born until the day they die. This is chilling, heartwarming, infuriating, sad and vital filmmaking.
People Like Us: Social Class in America screens June 3 at 12:30 p.m. and June 8 at noon at Regal Cinemas Hollywood 24.