Movies in Brief: ‘The Little Red Truck’
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
The new documentary “The Little Red Truck” does not lack in enthusiasm, heart, or compassion. But Rob Whitehair’s film, essentially a 102-minute endorsement of community theater, has a problem with execution.
The documentary follows the travels of the Missoula Children’s Theater, an unusual touring company that specializes in sending teams of two directors around the country to visit communities lacking in theater programs in an attempt to whip novice actors into stage stars. Missoula’s program is the definition of small-town theater. It sounds simpler than it actually is: The directors swoop in, teach full-scale productions of plays in just six days, and move on to the next town. The tour can have impressive effects on each community, from teaching children to read to improving their self-esteem, and — in at least one case depicted in the film — getting them out of gangs.
“The Little Red Truck” tries to capture the sense of excitement and triumph that fuels Missoula productions every week, but the widely traveled, diffuse program often evades the lens of Mr. Whitehair and his co-director, Pam Voth. The troupe visits more than 1,200 communities each year, providing a performing arts experience to about 65,000 children, and it seems as though the film has tried to capture all of them.
Consequently, there are simply too many people in the film to lend each of the small-scale triumphs the justice it deserves. Rather than capturing the progress of the children involved in the program, the film leaves the earnest Missoula tour directors to describe the impact that they’ve had. Broad emoting and enunciation may be helpful in a stage production, but they are not the most effective tools with which to document this story.
“The Little Red Truck” takes the time to spotlight individual students with compelling story lines, but the interviews lack the impact that more prolonged and direct access could have provided. With better editing, “The Little Red Truck” could have demonstrated the benefits of the Missoula program on a more personal level. But the film, taking a cue from its subject, tries to include everyone, and ends up giving them all short shrift.