Malcolm (Ty Hickson) and Sofia (Tashiana Washington), two graffiti artists living in the Bronx area of New York City, find themselves outclassed and out-tagged by a rival gang from Queens. Desperate to exact revenge, Malcolm and Sofia hatch a plan to tag the Mets’ iconic Home Run Apple – a huge fibreglass apple that pops up whenever a home run is hit. The only problem is, they must first raise the $500 needed to pay off the security guard and gain access to the stadium.
The story contained within writer-director Adam Leon’s directorial debut is a simple one, but one that’s rich in both depth and emotional resonance. Resisting the conventional tendency to look down on the lower class, Leon presents Malcolm and Sofia as they are: upbeat and driven teenagers who are determined to make their lives better, regardless of their individual circumstances and restricted fortunes. They may have slightly different personalities (Sofia’s more ruthless, while Malcolm has a winning charm), but they’re both as tough and resilient to life’s shortcomings as the other.
It’s an approach that, to Leon’s benefit, pays off in spades, particularly in the way it allows the audience to form a substantial bond with the characters as they scam, cheat and steal their way to their desired intent. At first, neither of them has any noteworthy luck, but when Malcolm discovers one of his buyers (he doubles as a part-time drug seller) has a stash of jewellery, their luck looks up. It’s all surplus, however, as Leon is far more interested in the poetic rhythm of their adventure, rather than the specifics of their unlawfulness.
Leon, with the aid of cinematographer Jonathan Miller, captures Gimme the Loot beautifully, awarding a calm and romanticised sheen to proceedings, yet forever retaining a percolating sense of insecurity and hardship. The infectious and realistic chemistry between Hickson and Washington – both of whom are solid in their respective roles – not only boosts the films authenticity as a snapshot of what Malcolm and Sofia have grown to consider as the normal way of life, but also adds profundity and intrigue to the comfortable relationship felt between them.
In a nutshell, Gimme the Loot is a slice of lo-fi filmmaking by a promising new talent that refreshingly shifts focus onto the everyday lives of two aspirational young people from a world that’s seldom given prominence to in film. It may be light on significance and an underlying message, but with strong performances and a unique down-to-earth style that’s full of humour, warmth and optimism, it’s a gratifying diversion from the overdone and irksome norm.