Director Adam Leon’s debut feature Gimme the Loot is what I so often want small, low budget indie films to be — and they so rarely are. He fills his movie with a genuine, gentle humanity and not an ounce of pretension.This is a very small film in every respect, from its reported $65,000 budget to its sparse and almost naturalistic cinematic style. Even its plotting fits inside this mold since things happen, but not within any traditional three-act sense. There’s no real climax, and Leon is completely focused on his characters — mainly our two leads, Sofia (Tashiana Washington) and Malcolm (Ty Washington), two young graffiti artists living in New York who are struggling to gain respect from rival taggers in other neighborhoods. To win their battle, they come up with a plan to tag the large metal apple that rises out of centerfield at Citi Field everytime the Mets hit a homerun. It’s a big, flashy plan with one huge hitch: the duo needs $500 in order to bribe a Citi Field worker to get into the stadium, a nigh impossible task for two broke kids.
Most of the film follows Malcolm and Sofia as they try to hustle cash from any possible situation or illegal (though mostly harmless) means. In the process of running around New York, they interact with several realistically quirky characters. Leon is paying tribute not only to New York City, but to those filmmakers before him whose movies have so famously inhabited and represented the city, echoing the works of Woody Allen and — to a less incendiary degree — Spike Lee. To paraphrase Allen in the opening of Manhattan (1979), Leon’s romanticized New York is “all out of proportion.” However, Leon has also approached Gimme the Loot from the hopeful perspective that this is his characters’ town and it always will be. The film is wholly New York to the point that the city is almost a living, breathing character itself. None of this is at the service of some grand climax, as it becomes pretty apparent that the film isn’t headed for a standard wrap-up. For some people, this approach will be frustrating, but Leon is more concerned with getting to know his characters.
Sophia and Malcolm start off with simple personalities — she being gruff and often verbally aggressive, and he being fast-talking and a bit of a loud-mouth screwup. But as the film unwinds, their vulnerabilities and humanity are slowly revealed through their friendship. This is a gradual progression, though some setups are more important than others, like Malcolm’s complicated interactions with rich WASP Ginnie (Zoe Lescaze). She buys weed from Malcolm, but interacts with him completely differently in private and public situations — something obviously a bit heartbreaking to Malcolm (plus, there’s an element of class conflict in this and in Malcolm’s half-baked plan to steal jewelry from Ginnie, which give the film extra of depth).
The romantic interest between Sofia and Malcolm is obvious to everyone but the twosome, and while this never really comes to fruition, it’s handled genuinely and sweetly. This conveys a low-key sweetness, with nothing mawkish or corny about it. It’s handled realistically, but nevertheless inches its way through the entirety of the film, making Gimme the Loot little more than a film about good-hearted people. This is nothing groundbreaking or mind-blowing, but in a world where so much art is bogged down in heavy emotions, nastiness and bad medicine, Leon’s film is a relief. Unfortunately, this is exactly the kind of film that’s almost guaranteed to get steamrolled by the summer’s bigger, flashier productions. This is a pity. Rarely do we get films that are this satisfyingly sweet, yet so astonishingly simple. Not Rated.
Starts Friday at Carolina Cinemas