Gimme the Loot won the Grand Jury Prize at SXSW in 2012 and writer/director Adam Leon was nominated for Best First Feature and the Someone to Watch Award at the 2013 Independent Spirit Awards. These worthy accolades have just been the beginning, as this authentic, energetic and small-scale caper comedy has continued to win over audiences. Branded with it’s own language it has current appeal and is sure to please at this year’s Possible Worlds Festival. In this NYC-set story of two teens who face repeated foils in their determined pursuit of a unique experience - exerting revenge against a rival graffiti gang by tagging a landmark at the New York Mets stadium – the success rests on Leon’s verite style, street-smart writing, and the natural chemistry between the impressive leads. They share an impeccable rapport, their increasing desperation resulting in a series of unexpected events that contribute to this taut, wholesomely endearing and joyously entertaining adventure.
Malcolm (Ty Hickson) and Sofia (Tashiana R. Washington), two street-savvy teens from the Bronx, have no doubts about their abilities as graffiti-writers. When a rival gang buffs their latest work, they hatch a plan to tag something that will bring them lifelong notoriety. In order to make this happen they need to raise $500. Over the course of the next two days they try and scrounge together the funds by any means necessary – dealing their last stash of spray cans and small-time drug peddling. After Sofia loses her bike and gets swindled, and Malcolm rips off some local dealers and loses his sneakers after being distracted by his beautiful and privileged student client, they attempt a harebrained scheme to make their approaching appointment.
Gimme the Loot is not just a slice of New York urban life, it is also an intimate look at the city’s youth, whose high spirits transcend the daily hardships during a time of opportunity that is only fortuitous for the opportune. Repeatedly, the pair has a string of bad luck and are taken advantage of by others who are more opportune and cunning. I can’t recall whether the kids are on summer break in between the school year, or whether they have dropped out and spend most of their time on the streets. It doesn’t matter. They have a sole objective and nothing else in their life shares the same level of purpose than to repair their tainted reputation, a trait they cling to and fight for.
The comic timing between the two likeable street kids is what makes this consistently enjoyable. While it is hard to take in every word they are saying – they speak fast and in a jargon-heavy dialect – we get a broad idea of their respective anxieties. Both characters surprise us, and the evident improvisation fits in well. Malcolm believes that he will attract more girls if he tags the icon, and when he meets Ginny (Zoë Lescaze) he believes his prophecy has come true. Embarrassment and humiliation ensues, however. Sofia cops antagonism from the males she comes across and being the tough independent girl that she is, stands up for herself. She is flattered to learn that she might also be the object of affection, however. While they make some bad decisions, and ultimately wheel and deal illegally, these kids remain optimistic, despite their encountered foils.
There is a real sense of genuine naturalism to these sequences, with lengthy unbroken takes of the two walking the streets. Some scenes are clearly scripted and set-influenced, while others feature the two conversing and walking in organic NYC environments, uninfluenced by the production. It is always refreshing to see the small and intimate tales of unique individuals within a major city, and the Bronx, Harlem areas present in the film are as much of a character.
Remember Gimme the Loot when you scour the Possible Worlds lineup. I loved the performances and there is a contemporary NYC brand of neorealism that makes Leon’s next project intriguing. Though the unlikely mission requires some morally questionable activity, we back this pair the entire way. Small indie films like this often reap the most reward upon reflection, and this entertaining caper is no exception.
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22