A Bronx Tale: Leon Crafts Subtly Observed Day in the Life
In young relationships different emotions mingle and conflate, complicating our roles, blurring how we see each other. A friendship can be indispensable, can feel like everything, but the promise of more can be tempting, offering the hint of a deeper connection. In Adam Leon’s feature debut, the Bronx tale Gimme The Loot (named after the Notorious B.I.G. track), Malcolm and Sofia (superb newcomers Ty Hickson and Tashiana Washington) are graffiti partners, best friends, but an underlying attraction runs beneath all of their charged encounters. After their work is defaced, they are determined to not only redeem themselves but to shock the New York graffiti world with an act of daring, proving to everyone, but perhaps most of all to each other, that they can be the biggest writers in the city. Leon has crafted a subtly observed but poignant day in the life of two Bronx kids trying to claim a small place for themselves.
But first, they need five hundred dollars. Much of the film’s 81 minutes are spent watching Sofia and Malcolm scheme and hustle to scrounge together this cash. Malcolm, goofily charming, with a lazy smile that seduces, goes to see the guy he runs pot for, but the man is none too pleased to see him due to a previous transgression. Malcolm tries to smooth the situation over while weed is weighed and bagged in front of him, but his pride prevails and he insults the dealer, sending him empty handed back onto the street. Outside, he bumps into Lenny, another runner, standing around in flip-flops, looking to have a conversation with anyone who will listen. Malcolm manages to trick him into getting half of his stuff for deliveries and takes off for the first stop.
Sofia, pretty and pugnacious, has less luck. This is a boy’s world, and these boys do not cut her any slack, taunting her incessantly, even physically manhandling her—it does not help that these kids all have massive crushes on her and she wants nothing to do with any of them. Washington is beautiful in a defiant way; she hides her body however she can, with her hair in a tight bun and loose board shorts, but still, manages to look stunning. When she goes to one place to claim a debt owed, her bike is stolen. She manages to come away with one of the thieves’ cell phones, but soon after, that too is taken away from her. If the only rule is brute force, then the cunning female is at a loss. When she finally makes a deal and sells a pair of shoes she has taken as collateral, she’s not only robbed but physically assaulted; while two older boys hold her down, another tags her chest. “This is the closest you’ll ever get to touching tits!” she screams while swinging her body around in violent protest. Among adults, this is grounds for arrest, but with kids it’s simply dismissed as bullying.
Malcolm ventures down out of the Bronx to make the delivery and finds Ginnie (Zoë Lescaze), a tall blonde, eager for conversation and company. While they sit in her room smoking, Malcolm does his best to keep up, as Ginnie’s privileged background afford her experiences Malcolm can barely fathom—he plays with a skull on her bookshelf but is then mystified to find out “it’s real.” Despite this, the teenage tension between them is palpable, growing with each pass of the pipe. They slowly inch toward each other on the bed, their bodies opening up to the other, neither saying a word about it. They make a bet, Malcolm’s reward a kiss. Ginnie coyly agrees, basking in the attention, loving this flirtation with what she views as danger. The scene almost feels as though it’s in real time and so when they finally do come together, with a kiss both friendly and foreign, the audience has gone through this youthful pas de deux along with them. Malcolm is forced to run when his dealer shows up furious for Malcolm’s earlier theft, and he bolts down the steps, shoeless—a way he will stay for the remainder of the film.
Malcolm is enamored with Ginnie and can’t help but gush about it to Sofia. The dynamic is a tense one; neither would dare allude to a romance with the other, and so Sofia continues her front of hardness and apathy, suggesting to Malcolm that they rob his new crush. Alas, when Malcolm returns to Ginnie’s for yet another transaction, this time she has company and humiliates him, pretending as if nothing had happened earlier between them. Embittered, Malcolm acquiesces and the two begin to scheme how they can rob Ginnie.
This, like their other plans, falls short. They enlist their enforcer friend Champion to help them, but he is not the locksmith he claimed to be, and neither Malcolm nor Sofia are the cold-blooded criminals they at times project. Instead, they go to a friend’s party. At the party a friend asks Malcolm if he and Sofia are dating, if Sofia is up for grabs. Malcolm can barely string together the words to respond, his friend takes notice, and drops the subject.
Throughout, Leon’s hands-off approach invites the viewer in. The long takes, embedding Hickson and Washington among the crowd on the street and in parks, give Gimme The Loot a lived-in, near documentary feel. Leon never draws attention to the artifice; instead he lets the action speak for itself and allows the audience to draw its own conclusions. (In this sense, his apprenticeship with Woody Allen shines through.) This could feel lazy but with Leon’s touch, it feels liberating.
Their plan falls through, was never even really close. Riding the subway back up to the Bronx the next morning, Sofia falls asleep on Malcolm; this is the first time she’s let her guard down. He looks at her, with watchful, soft eyes that show a calm, a protectiveness that he is slowly coming to recognize as romantic feelings. After one last joint scam, they stand in the park, their day done. They stand in the frame together, our eyes darting back and forth, dying to see who will take the first step. All is said in their looks, they settle with slapping hands; this time, that’s enough.
Reviewed at the SXSW Film Festival on March 13th, 2012. – Narrative Competition, 81 Mins.