Roger Weisberg's documentary "Waging a Living" captures what's going on in the homes of four hard-working low wage earners, all trying to support their families with near minimum wage jobs and little or no benefits. They are "hustling backwards," as one of the subjects, Barbara Brooks aptly calls it. In this in-depth part cinema verite doc, the affecting profiles span three years during which we observe grinding struggles with bureaucratic systems, an unconcerned society, a rising cost of living, and seemingly few solutions. Weisberg navigates the vicissitudes of the work, family and social lives, and we come out with a fresh understanding of how difficult life is for the working poor, with the American Dream only a distant fantasy.
The key to this documentary's success is the perfect choice of participants, and the intimate profiles. Weisberg provides a close coherent look at the profilees' lives. By the end we have affection for each of the earnest, yet colorful characters. And, we feel frustrated by their predicaments, and stunned at a labor market that deprives full-time hard workers of a living wage, and keeps them trapped in a cycle of poverty.
Waitress Mary Venittelli earns $2.13 an hour plus tips at a rural southern New Jersey restaurant. An expensive divorce forces her and her children to move from a comfortable middle class existence to a life of relying on the food bank for subsistence.
Single mother of five, Barbara Brooks, provides for her family by working in the juvenile detention facility in Nassau County, N.Y., where she was an inmate in her adolescence. She is a victim of sexual abuse and domestic violence. To improve her family's standard of living, she attends a community college to pursue of an associate degree and higher wages.
The vibrant profiles in "Waging A Living" make the statistics about this issue come alive. The stories elucidate the realties of the oft-used phrase "working poor," and introduce us to people we won't soon forget.
For Movie Magazine, this is Joan Widdifield.
© 2006 - Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D - Air Date: 1/4/06
Waging A Living
Director: Roger Weisberg