“Do what you gotta do to make that s**t happen”, says Sofia (Tashiana Washington) to her friend and graffiti partner, Malcolm (Ty Hickson).
Once again, they’ve just had their latest work ruined by their rivals – the Woodside King Crew, from Queens – and decide that they need to come up with a way to finally get them off their back. So a suggests they get into the Mets stadium and ‘bomb’ the giant apple that appears whenever the team scores a home run, something that no one has achieved since the ’80s. There’s the small matter of the $500 they need to hand over to their contact who has promised he can get them after- hours access to the stadium, so they set about raising the cash. They have no strategy but are full of naïve optimism and teen spirit.
Gimme the Loot has a gentle, rolling rhythm, its story unfolding over two hot summer days. There’s an undercurrent of sweetness running throughout the lm, funny (almost slapstick) in parts, it invites you into a world of low impact hustling, scheming, snappy banter and local kids hanging out.
It’s unsurprising to learn that first-time writer/director Adam Leon cut his teeth working with Woody Allen; Gimme the Loot borrows elements of early Allen films, zooming in on the conversations and chemistry between characters, speculations, hapless plotting and pitfalls, but bypasses the screwball factor. We get the ‘partners in crime’, the ‘gangsta’, the ‘rival crew’ the ‘rich girl’ the ‘plan’ (to lift the rich girl’s jewellery box) and, of course, New York City itself, ( fittingly, a less touristic version).
It’s the interplay between the non-pro cast characters that keeps the film ticking, accompanied by an eclectic soundtrack which ranges from hip hop (Black Moon’s ‘I Got Cha Opin’) and funk (Punkin’ Machine’s ‘I Need You Tonight’) to original music from Nicholas Brittell.
While Leon’s comedy timing is tight throughout, there’s a more brutal realism in the scenes between Malcolm and Ginnie (Zoë Lescaze). They meet when Malcolm hijacks a weed delivery en route to Ginnie’s house. A private-school stoner who’s done it all and has the t-shirt, she tells Malcolm how she’s travelled the world and likes Champagne and oysters, yet when it comes to handing over the cash for the drugs she’s “so broke”. Ginnie comes across as arrogant and entitled; she’s happy to hang out and flirt with Malcolm when they’re alone, but later reverts to type and gets a kick out of embarrassing him in front of her friends.
The film indirectly sets her against Sofia, the natural, attractive, sassy, fast-talking tomboy who can look after herself but isn’t too proud to accept help from her male friends. Inevitably, while the audience sees this, Sofia doesn’t and feels intimidated by Ginnie. When she seeks Malcolm’s reassurance he offers it clumsily which sets up some endearing, teenage, ‘will-they-won’t- they’ tension between the pair.
The notion of Malcolm and Sofia being graffiti writers, or their interest in street art, isn’t explored in the film beyond a few scenes; although they speak about it a lot, we don’t get much back story on how or why they got into it. Graffiti itself isn’t central to the film, it just provides a narrative motivation for the ensuing capers and it’s this incentive which coats Gimme the Loot in its feel-good factor. Sure, these kids are up for a bit of petty crime but it’s not out of boredom or bad upbringing; they’ve grown up in the Bronx and are hustling to get by, but street art has given them ambition and direction, fuelled by a friendship based on loyalty and a shared dream.
Do the Right ing, it isn’t. Kids, it isn’t. It has neither a big budget nor a controversial hook; so while there’s a cursory resemblance to those cult benchmarks, it’s not trying to be them, it doesn’t need to. Besides, Gimme the Loot is elevated by its sharp script, astute character studies, the New York summer backdrop and some very cool soundtrack choices.
– GEMMA DE CRUZ