Louder Than a Bomb Review
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At some point, each one of us has had to write a poem. In most cases, it was probably in some high school English class, where bored teenagers reluctantly wrote ridiculous rhymes in iambic pentameter. Or maybe, like me, you took every creative writing class that you could and spent your teens and early twenties pouring your heart into journal after journal of earnestly therapeutic verses. If so, you understand the power of the written word—the power to express feelings, to tell stories, even to change lives. But even if you haven’t experienced the power of poetry for yourself, you’ll definitely understand it after watching the powerful, poetic documentary Louder Than a Bomb.

Each March, teams of teenagers from around Chicago come together to compete in Louder Than the Bomb, the world’s largest teen poetry slam. The film Louder Than a Bomb follows four of those teams as they spend months writing and perfecting their poetry and rehearsing for the big event.

You can forget about any preconceived notions that you might have about teenage poets. These kids come from all kinds of different schools in all kinds of different neighborhoods. Sure, there are kids from suburban prep schools—like lovable Adam Gottlieb. He’s the picture of the nerdy poet, with his long hair and ever-present cap—but instead of radiating doom and gloom, he’s so full of positive energy that he practically glows.

But there are other kids, too—like Nova Venerable, an angry young girl whose poetry expresses her feelings of anger toward her estranged father. Or Nate Marshall, the seasoned veteran, who fought his way out of his rough neighborhood to attend a better school in the suburbs. Or the kids from Steinmetz, who hope to repeat last year’s surprise win.

For each of these young poets, the competition means something different—whether it’s a way to fit in, a way to express themselves, or a way to release the wild mix of emotions swirling around their young minds. While each competitor has his or her own story, though, directors Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel keep the outside drama to a minimum. They offer just a little bit of background to give the teams and their members some context—but, for the most part, they let the poetry speak for itself. And that was a brilliant move—because the poetry is truly breathtaking.

The competitors’ performances speak volumes about the kids’ lives—about their hopes, their fears, their past, and their future. Some of the poems are playful. Some are wise beyond the performers’ years. And some are so profound and so moving that they’ll bring tears to your eyes.

Still, Louder Than a Bomb is a competition. And though the poets and organizers are quick to point out that “the point is not the point,” judges nevertheless score each performance, and there are, inevitably, eliminations. Not all of the schools make the final competition, but they all learn valuable lessons about themselves, their teammates, and their competitors—who, over the course of the competition, become their friends.

Louder Than a Bomb is a simple documentary—but it’s guaranteed to be one of the most moving and uplifting docs you’ll see this year. And, once you see it, you’ll never again doubt the power of the written—or spoken—word to break down barriers, build bridges, and transform lives.

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