‘Our Towns’ Review: Across America, Signs of Life


The documentary, “Our Towns,” serves as a companion piece to the 2018 book of the same name, in which writers James and Deborah Fallows recorded their travels across the country in a single-engine airplane while spending time in places they felt the national media narrative had missed . A basic rule, says James in the film, was “never to ask about national politics because this conversation is nowhere”.

The film, directed by Steven Ascher and Jeanne Jordan, easily confuses the distinction between urban and rural environments and red and blue states. Even what counts as progress is not easy. (In this narrative, Sioux Falls, SD, owes some of its revitalization to the state lifting a cap on credit card rates.) The film haunts the Fallowses as they return to some of the cities’ health libraries from their book , local newspapers, growing art scenes, and growing breweries.

There are regional differences. Students in Columbus, Miss., Grapple with the legacy of slavery around them as adults look to a future less racist. Members of the Flandreau Santee Sioux tribe discuss their efforts to keep the Dakota language alive. A teenager in Eastport, Maine who works as a lobsterman this summer plans ahead for a time when climate change will take away the lobster business.

Deborah says that of the couple, James (the former Jimmy Carter speechwriter and longtime journalist for The Atlantic) is the historian and she is attuned to what is happening right now. They complement each other well. As fun as writing is, the filmmaking around them – aerial shots, time-lapse photography, cuts for the couple looking absorbed – is less inspired than their project.

Our cities
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes. Watch on HBO platforms.



Robert Dunfee