Film Review: 45365

American small-town life is the subject of this interesting, stunningly photographed but less than profound documentary.

Though a fly-on-the-wall look at a Western Ohio community may sound tiresome, 45365 (the number refers to the city’s zip code) never becomes that and, with correct handling, this no-budget film could catch on as a cult favorite.

Directors Bill and Turner Ross shot for several months in 2007 in their native city of Sidney, capturing various aspects of the lives of the 20,000 people who reside in the community. We see everything from families at home to shoppers in stores to children on playgrounds and the everyday life and work of politicians, police officers, court officials, school students, religious leaders, nursing home providers, and many other sorts of denizens.

Part Fred Wiseman, part Robert Altman and part Harmony Korine, 45365 keeps one guessing as to its message—or even if it has any message. Like Wiseman, the Ross brothers promote the idea of leaving meaning up to the viewer, though shrewd Wiseman fans already know that the cinéma-vérité pioneer’s choice and ordering of shots creates meaning, not to mention point of view. Bill and Turner Ross continue this tradition, though they shy away from the sometimes telling details. (Wiseman frequently shoots in long-take close-up and occasionally focuses on a background figure during a sequence.)

Nevertheless, the Ross brothers, who both photographed their film, find beauty in the ordinary and, masterfully using their HD cameras, take pictures at odd angles, creating arresting images, turning 45365 into a sort of real-life Gummo, Korine’s infamous but fictional small-town story. Finally, the scenes involving pompous or bumbling politicians are reminiscent of Altman’s Nashville—except that they are also “real.” (At least we rarely get the sense the participants are performing for or playing to the cameras.)

The only thing missing from this bittersweet but mostly loving portrait is all the dark stuff we rarely see in this kind of documentary—i.e., the corruption, dirty-dealing and political chicanery that takes place in every community (small and large). The fly on the walls of those scenes would have been a mighty privileged insect, but no doubt swatted dead before it could tell its tale.