Taking on the American dream in the Bronx, Adam Leon’s Gimme The Loot walks the highline from fading dreams to blossoming romance.
American Graffiti by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
An alternative slice of the Big Apple to the slick Manhattan of glitzy Hollywood rom-coms, there’s barely a glimpse of the Empire State or Central Park in Adam Leon’s Gimme The Loot. And yet, it’s recognisably New York with its avenues, stoops and rooftops. A city divided into rich and poor – graffiti artists Sofia and Malcolm and uptown girl Ginnie and her clique. The one steals, walks barefoot in the city, his sneakers robbed, and sells drugs. The other buys them, travels, jogs and takes dips in the ghetto swimming pool – the rooftop water tanks that crown Manhattan. They flirt, despise and attempt to steal from each other, circling like dogs at each other’s tails. Both of dreams and never sleeping, Gimme The Loot is very much the tale of two cities.
After discovering their graffiti buffed by rival taggers from Queens, Bronx teenagers Sofia and Malcolm decide to stake everything on a daring caper to ink the Mets’ Home Run Apple. It’s a gauntlet no-one has successfully taken up in over 20 years and fame is guaranteed. And on a sultry summer day, the feisty New Yorkers attempt to rustle up the readies to pay Pedro – the Mets coach who is requesting 500 bucks to get them into the stadium. They sell their paint cans as well as drugs, get their bikes stolen, attempt to shift nicked phones and plan a heist on uptown girl Ginnie. But when all else fails, they decide to meet Pedro anyway with a fake wad of greenbacks. Only he doesn’t show, and broken dreams give way to a lingering hint of romance.
We’ve seen New York a thousand times in movies – from Woody Allen’s Manhattan to, more recently, Steve McQueen’s Shame and Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine, its streets and skyscrapers a melting pot for the city of dreams. And yet, Adam Leon has succeeded in casting New York in a new light, combining the poetry of Bronx and Manhattan rooftops with the gritty reality of sidewalks and subways. With guerrilla style cinematography on the streets of New York, it’s a duality reflected in the rest of Gimme The Loot – in Malcolm and Sofia’s street slang compared with Ginnie’s plummy patter, in its locations on either side of the Harlem River and its black and white characters and their colliding worlds. But it’s a city capable of promising American dreams to all – from the listless Midtown bohos to the Bronx taggers eager for fame and revenge over the Queens based Mets and their inflatable mascot. It’s unfathomable, even risible, but still, it’s a dream in the making.
Tashiana Washington and Ty Hickson shine as the fast-talking, free-wheeling pair on the make, jibing each other affectionately and looking out for each other. Like his mother’s birthday that Malcolm forgets, relationships come second to the pragmatic demands of the here and now – making money, impressing friends and trouncing rivals. Their sparring friendship cuts through the seemingly global malaise of people who refuse to get involved or care – everyone cocooned in thick shells of egotism. And as they give up on their hopelessly unrealisable dream, they share a moment – stealing flowers from a sidewalk stall for Malcolm’s mother – that sparks the start of a relationship and that puts the journey over their destination, be it Citi Field or Shea Stadium.
Adam Leon’s script is street smart and sassy, but his debut feature and New York odyssey can at times lurch awkwardly between mumblecore or stoner whimsy and a strained stiltedness worthy of Made In Chelsea (NYC). At heart Gimme The Loot is a rom-com dressed up in social realism and heist thriller finery. And with its delicate romance, evocative underworlds and street brusqueness, it shouldn’t be ashamed to wear its heart on its sleeve. Like its sneakerless and amorous hero, Gimme The Loot is simple and somewhat flat-footed, but still, in the city of lights a pulse is beating.
Gimme The Loot is released on 3rd May 2013 in the UK