Anne de Mare and Kirsten Kelly’s documentary The Homestretch tracks the lives of three homeless Chicago teenagers: Roque, whose 1.6 GPA seems shockingly at odds with the fact that, among other things, he’s performing Hamlet in collaboration with the Chicago Shakespeare Theater; Anthony, a recent father and a shrewd performer of lyrics and poetry; and the lively and hilarious Kasey, who left home after her mother failed to accept her lesbianism.
The movie’s investigation into teen homelessness is more panoramic than the intimate, three-person structure might suggest: In one scene, an overnight shelter with limited resources is forced to employ a lottery system to determine who will be able to spend the night, a brutal practice that speaks volumes about the intricate processes of youth homeless life.
The sharp-eyed Kelly and de Mare, who previously collaborated on Asparagus! Stalking the American Life (2008), act as their own cinematographers, capturing both moments of beauty (the soulful silhouette that opens the film) and despair (the harsh sting of a Chicago winter).
They graft a clear arc onto each person’s story — Roque’s attempt to earn admission to Northeastern Illinois University, Kasey’s post-graduation malaise, Anthony’s promising internship program and paternal ambitions — but they are by no means under the delusion that these trajectories can be fully resolved in a neat 90 minutes.
The Homestretch is ultimately a humane accomplishment, very much in keeping with a sentiment expressed by a worker from Chicago’s Teen Living Programs to a room full of displaced kids: “[Homelessness is] a situation. It’s not who you are.”