Last week while looking at Oscar nominees, I learned that the Houston Public Library had extended us five tickets to an exclusive premiere of The Public. The film doesn’t actually hit theaters until April, so why did we get invited? We took a look at the trailer for the film:
It’s suddenly more clear why we were invited to the premiere.
Written, directed, starring and produced by Emilio Estevez? “That’s a modern day Madea”, as my coworker said. The theater was packed with librarians from all over the area – city libraries, county libraries, everywhere.
Starring Emilio Estevez, Christian Slater, Taylor Schilling, Alec Baldwin, Gabrielle Union, Jena Malone and Jeffrey Wright, the film follows Cincinnati Public Library’s librarians and the patrons they care for. During the coldest part of the year, several homeless people freeze to death because the local shelters are at capacity or an hour walk in zero degree weather. Middle manager Stuart Goodson (Estevez) is just trying to get by and survive his workplace: an overzealous staff member, an apathetic director, homeless patrons fighting in the bathroom, people trying to sue the Library, and of course…silly questions like “Do you have a life-sized globe?”. Regardless of what comes his way, Stuart always tries to do the right thing to help people in need.
On a particularly cold night, the local homeless community comes over and asks to stay the night. When the library director (Wright) denies this request, the homeless patrons respond by barricading themselves in part of the library which snowballs into a stand-off with the police. At the helm of the police are negotiator Bill Ramstead (Baldwin) and the “just trying to do my job but totally the bad guy” district attorney, Josh Davis (Slater), who just wants to tear gas the room and arrest everyone. In the mix are Stuart’s neighbor (Schilling), a sleazy reporter who keeps trying to make things look like a hostage situation for ratings (Union), and Stuart’s underling (Malone) who keeps complaining about how she has to get home to her mom, but never leaves when she gets the chance.
While I won’t give away the ending, I can say that does a great job of addressing homelessness, mental health, and where librarians stand in the battle to help everyone. To read more about the film itself, have a look here on IMBD.
To make the night even better, we had a Q&A session with the man himself, Emilio Estevez to discuss his film. While we were all the way in the back, I was still able to film some of his discussion!
(If you have trouble seeing it here, trying watching it directly from my Facebook Page)
Also in attendance was Ryan Dowd, author of The Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness. Previous to this screening, I had made his interactive website required reading for my staff because of how important understanding homelessness and mental health is in a library setting (and in general).
I really liked how accurately Estevez portrayed not only the public, but the librarians as well. The film opens Estevez’s character (Stuart) being put in the hot seat because a patron sued the library; the patron was kicked out for smelling bad enough to cause others to complain, and he felt he was being discriminated against. Despite doing everything correctly, documenting the complaints and handling it professionally, Stuart was still in trouble. Many librarians face these kinds of challenges every day where someone is put in trouble for enacting library policies and following the rules. Every day, we walk a fine line and have to make judgment calls; Estevez makes a great reference to the Connecticut Four as an example of protecting patrons. It was easy to see myself in his shoes: middle management, trying to help people, making the most of outlandish situations. Every time somebody tells me “it must be so nice to just read all day”, I think back to the patron who pulled a knife on me over $8 in fines. Stuart and I even wear lanyards!
However, Stuart’s judgment calls seem to become exceedingly erratic as the film moves forward. I won’t go into details or spoilers, but I can’t say for certain that I would have made the same choices as Stuart. At some moments, I feel like the movie doesn’t go far enough and kind of painted itself into a corner at the end with no solid resolution. However, Estevez states in his Q&A that the film was only meant to start a conversation about homelessness and mental health, not present the answer. To that end, I will say the ending was fantastic.
Will it start a discussion and really get Americans to review public libraries, mental illness, veterans, joblessness and homelessness? I certainly hope so. We’ll find out April 5th when it hits theaters.
Also, I hereby ask that The Joker On The Sofa review this movie. If you don’t read his stuff, you should be!
Justin Brasher, Brash Librarian