If you want to tell a story about American street culture and the rough and tumble young folks that live it everyday, it would seem New York City has got to be your setting. Fitting into the pantheon somewhere between Kids and Raising Victor Vargas (with a touch of Downtown 81 thrown in), Adam Leon 's SXSW Narrative Competition winning GIMME THE LOOT is another impressive entry in the subgenre. With the raw aesthetics of talented nonprofessional actors and a less than shoestring budget (call it shoe-less), this enjoyable film marks the emergence of a real directorial talent in Leon.
Set all over the NYC, GIMME THE LOOT is the story of two punk kids Malcolm and Sofia, out of high school but not by much. The two write graffiti, slang weed, and pull minor robberies whenever chances present themselves. While their ambitions in each of these arenas is sky high, their skill and execution leaves plenty to be desired. Like all aspiring graffiti writers, their goal is to get their names out there, and when Malcolm gets the idea to tag up the Mets' home run apple at Shea Stadium, the promise of stardom becomes too great to resist. But to get it done, the pair need to pay off one of Malcolm's friends to sneak them in to the stadium. And to do that, Malcolm and Sofia gotta get that paper.
While the search for the money to pay off Malcolm's friend serves as the motivating factor in the plot, the real story is the relationship between Malcolm and Sofia. This absolutely comes to life through the on screen chemistry between Ty Hickson and Tashiana Washington. While friends and business partners first and foremost, Malcolm and Sofia obviously care greatly about each other. When one of Malcolm's plans comes to involve seducing another girl, the emotional quandary it causes is painfully evident in Sofia's reluctant cooperation.
Malcolm and Sofia are both African American but issues of race play no role in the story. The rich white girl he tries to seduce is more separated from Malcolm by her class than her skin color and the division between the pair and their Latino criminal mentor is one of only age and experience. It could be that this lack of racial dynamic is a commentary on the level of integration amongst youth in today's New York City. Or it could be that Leon, himself white, chooses to ignore the topic to keep the film consistent in it's light hearted tone.
The film is so light-hearted, in fact, that it's easy to forget these kids commit multiple crimes on a daily basis. Maybe it's because they aren't that good at it, but there don't seem to be any real consequences in this world except possibly getting jacked by someone else. It's fine though because the film is about the relationship more than any of the crimes. It is easy to imagine a tagline on a poster for the film reading, "Guilty of misdemeanors, Innocent in love."
It isn't difficult to see how this charming picture won the narrative competition at SXSW this year. The story is fun, filmmaking adequate, and on screen chemistry between the leads infectous. Adam Leon is most certainly a director to watch (probably more in the vein of Peter Sollett than Larry Clark). This will certainly be just the first of many great things from his team and him.