2000, R, 96 min. Directed by Jim Mckay. Starring The Jackie Robinson Steppers Marching Band, Kim Howard, Ray Anthony Thomas, Marlene Forte, Melissa Martinez, Anna Simpson, Kerry Washington.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 3, 2001
Three girls in their mid-teens are growing up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the best they can. Part of growing up, however, means making choices, growing apart, and leaving the certainty of childhood behind for the uncertainty of adulthood. Lanisha (Washington), the child of a divorced Latina mom and black dad, senses her old crowd breaking apart as they enter their last years of high school, where she's a good student and the only one of the three who might eventually achieve success in conventional terms. Joycelyn (Simpson) already dreams of moving up into a fancier crowd; she works in a retail clothing store, wears Tommy Hilfiger fashions, and dreams of being a famous poet despite the probability that she will spend her life chasing a paycheck as a sales clerk. Maria (Martinez) faces the most cliché future of them all: She's pregnant, wants the baby, and loves the father, although we can already see him slipping out the back door of responsibility. On top of all this, their high school is shutting down due to asbestos contamination and the friends will all be divided out to new schools. The one thing they have in common and that provides a bedrock of community and discipline for the neighborhood kids is their participation in the Jackie Robinson Steppers Marching Band -- a real Brooklyn after-school program that provided writer-director McKay with much of the inspiration for this film. Anyone familiar with McKay's 1996 film Girls Town with Lili Taylor will recognize similar narrative threads in Our Song. The focus in Girls Town is also on three inner-city girls, although they're a couple of years younger in Our Song and seem more realistic and articulate this time around. Our Song was the first professional film work for the three lead actresses (although Washington subsequently has gone on to appear in Save the Last Dance and the yet-unreleased Lift). Narratively speaking, little occurs in Our Song. We watch as the girls mosey through the summer -- going to band practice, flirting with boys, idly shoplifting, interacting with their parents, and hanging out with other kids in the neighborhood. They talk, they share their dreams, they mourn a neighborhood tragedy. This is the heart of the story, this peek at the daily lives of girls whose lives are not the common fodder of our celluloid dreams. It's too bad the language prevents this independent film from being rated PG-13 because this is the kind of movie that might be capable of realistically reflecting teens' lives to other teens -- that in-between time during which the future seems all-powerful and the past a quickly fading memory.