Gene Seymour: ‘Gimme the Loot’ Makes Us Feel Less Alone

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(Gimme the Loot stars Ty Hickson and Tashania Washington.)

The night after my wife and I saw Gimme the Loot at Manhattan’s IFC Center last month, a dancer friend of our dancer son told us a story about his walk home one recent evening in a semi-fringe Brooklyn neighborhood where a teenager jumped in front of him, pointed a gun and demanded his wallet. Our friend was able to tell from looking at the gun that it was empty and calmly told him that whatever he was trying to do wasn’t going to work. The kid panicked, asked him to please take the gun away. Our friend told him, Thanks, but he didn’t want it and did he still need some money anyway? The would-be mugger ran off, apparently without considering the offer.

That may be even harder to accomplish in this cesspool of thwarted dreams, quiet desperation and widening income gaps that we like to call the New Normal.

I recount this story because it sounds like something Malcolm (Ty Hickson), Gimme the Loot’s Bronx-bred-and-proud-of-it graffiti writer and thug manqué hero, would have tried to do in order to subsidize illicit, pre-dawn access to Citi Field, where he and his more self-possessed comrade-in-art Sofia (Tashania Washington) dream of “bombing” (with spray paint) the big red apple that always surfaces like a submarine on those increasingly rare occasions when the New York Mets hit a home run. One imagines this hypothetical hold-up would have turned out the same way for Malcolm as it did for our friend’s would-be mugger…which is to say, just as badly as everything else he and Sofia try to do throughout the movie.

Street crime may not be what it used to be. But the process of doing whatever it takes to realize your artistic vision, whether by fair or foul means, never changes – and, as Gimme the Loot suggests in its own indie-comedic manner, may be even harder to accomplish in this cesspool of thwarted dreams, quiet desperation and widening income gaps that we like to call the New Normal. (Sounds better, anyway, than Great Depression: The Sequel.)

Nevertheless, movies as nonchalantly buoyant, witty and graceful as Gimme the Loot still manage to get made in these stressed-out times. Indeed, writer-director Adam Leon’s debut feature, which opened Friday in Washington, D.C., after winning hearts, accolades and awards in New York, Los Angeles and Austin’s South-by-Southwest Festival would be a rarity even if things were going a lot better than they are now.

Gimme the Loot is a love story with no time for romance – and you barely miss having it around. It’s also a hip-hop artifact where the dialogue evokes the genre more than the eclectic soul-gospel-jazz soundtrack. Mostly, it’s a caper comedy with a lot of little capers swimming and hopping around like tiny creatures on a microscope’s slide. Even with such anomalies and quirks, Leon’s movie follows the prime directive of storytelling: Make your characters want something so bad that the audience hopes they get it. It helps that Malcolm and Sofia are such an appealing duo with classically contrasting personalities; a kind of Dean-and-Jerry in post-Millennial, multi-culti New York.

Beneath the surface, there’s a sense that almost everyone around them is frantically straining to avoid the isolation that comes from not mattering much in the world.

As Malcolm, Hickson is an overbearing pile-up of dogged bravado, klutzy aggression and scattered energies. Washington, who you would hope becomes a star from this turn, plays against Hickson with deadpan reactions and depth-bomb comebacks. Her Sofia is as infused with creative ambition and authorial pride as Malcolm; she just wears it with more composure – though when she’s ripped-off or shortchanged by everyone except Malcolm, you see cracks in her cool that disclose signs of the wounded child she’s been protecting under layers of swagger. Even if you were a Mets fan (and I am), why would you not want to see these charming contemporary brigands make their mark on the Big Apple, so to speak?

Beneath the movie’s sophisticated tactics and scruffy humor, there’s an underpinning of something more poignant; a sense that what the movie’s protagonists, and almost everyone around them, are so frantically straining to avoid is a sense of isolation that comes from not mattering much in the world, whether that world is a New York City borough or a whole continent. Even Ginnie (Zoe Lescaze), the entitled, somewhat manic Manhattan-ite whom Tyrone sells drugs to, falls for and then tries to burglarize after she and her friends taunt him, seems less brittle when you sense that, much like Malcolm and Sofia, she is fighting her own battle against loneliness. Unlike Malcolm and Sofia, she’s fighting that battle on her own.

What makes this compact, zesty little film such a welcome gift for our times is that it manages to make all of us, whatever our ages, ethnic backgrounds and income levels, feel less alone in the world. That’s not much to ask from a movie, though it’s difficult to think of too many others that bother to try. 

 

 

Gene Seymour is a Special Correspondent for The Washington Spectator. He spent more than 30 years working for daily newspapers, the last 18 of them with Newsday as a feature writer, jazz columnist and movie critic. He has written for The Nation, Los Angeles Times, Film Commentand American History. Follow him @WashSpec.