The owner of a ramshackle junk shop called Zoomer’s Treasures, located by the side of a rarely used highway in Kansas, Mary DeBoutez Zellmer-Fenoglio (aka ‘Zoomer’) is an eccentric, larger-than-life character and the living embodiment of a decades-old struggle with rural poverty in America. The director Sam Huntley first met her while on a cross-country road trip across America and returned 18 months later to shoot his first feature-length film chronicling her unusual day-to-day life.
The first words we hear from Zoomer – ‘When I was born, my grandmother delivered me. I searched for that silver spoon that I was hoping would be in my mouth, but all I could find was a pile of shit’ – express her frustration at never quite being able to raise herself out of the poverty she was born into. Looked down on as white trash during a lifetime spent in the shadow of an overbearing, abusive father, Zoomer alternates between infectious good humour and bitter sadness. Scenes filmed in the early hours of the morning, before she’s teased her blonde hair or painted her toenails green, poignantly reveal a battle with debilitating pain and manic depression.
The documentary offers an interesting insight into American backwater culture, and it is humorous, although a little irritating. The main problem is that its focus is too narrow and almost too intense: Huntley devotes almost every frame to Zoomer, who speaks either to her cats or directly to the camera in monologues that begin to blur into endless digressions. It’s a shame – her life story is both fascinating and tragic, but as a director Huntley never really gives the audience a chance to breathe.