Two black teenagers, a boy and a girl, steal graffiti cans from a small shop. They hastily jump in the trunk of a car, driven by a menacing Latino with full face tattoos, as the shop owner desperately tries to catch the moving car. The premise is set for a film portraying youth decay and urban crime, but Gimme the Loot is nothing of the sort. The two are in fact graffiti artists, Sofia and Malcolm, trying to make a name for themselves in New York. Their blue and pink tags are constantly destroyed by a rival Queens gang and they want to change that. The plan is to ‘bomb’ a huge apple that comes out every time the New York Mets score a home run on their home stadium and with the whole country watching, they will go into street-art history. What follows are a series of unfortunate events, as the two protagonists struggle to reach their goal. The story however is a only a corollary to a film that proves the enduring appeal and potential of movies centering on youthful rebellion.
First time director Adam Leone drew inspiration from genre classics, like Larry Clark’s Kids (1995) or Little Fugitive (1953). Firstly, the visual style of portraying the metropolis as an indifferent mass of bodies where daring youths appear to dominate the city, is clearly reminiscent of Kids. While Harmony Korine’s scriptwriting debut is code for uncompromising visuals and narrative violence, it is from Little Fugitive that Gimme the Loot takes its tone. Yes, the parents are missing, and the two main characters are robbed(twice!), walk around bare-foot and are double-crossed every step of the way, but they are still kids. They are still defined by that sort of unadulterated, free-willing pursuit of happiness that allows them to shrug off any hardship. And while many things go wrong as they trail the city looking for graffiti stardom, in the end it seems like just an ordinary 24 hours. All that remains is the playground attraction between Sofia and Malcolm that make them such a good on-screen pair.
There are a lot of other things that work well for Gimme the Loot. As any good New York movie, it has impressive and original great location shooting that embeds the audience in the urban environment and feels real. However, unlike a Spike Lee or Woody Allen feature, Leone does not seek to define the city within a narrow narrative viewpoint, but rather reveal it in its totality. Moving from Upper East Side condos to Queens rooftops and Bronx projects, while flowing through parks and busy streets, it fills the screen with an authentic New York aesthetic without politicizing the image.
This uninhibited, no-label type of directing further applies to the story. Much like The Little Fugitive, the movie does not have a contrived sense of right or wrong that ends the story, no moralistic view that it forces upon its audience. Every character seems like a natural element of the city, from the arrogant, educated Ginnie, a charming hipster seemingly cut from a Vampire Weekend album cover, to the couple’s partner in crime Rico, who obsessively repeats that he does everything to feed his family or Lenny, the dealer boss with a Cornell degree and a passion for golf. All of them in the end reveal themselves as endearing characters. They carry the essence of individualism/ exceptionalism that is so prevalent in the film and make Gimme the Loot such a feel-good flick. All this points to the film being a slice of life in the big city for 24 hours, filmed from an impartial vantage point.
The central metaphor of conquering ‘the big apple’ is obvious and applies throughout the movie. Malcolm and Sofia are two parts of the same self-sufficient unit(it should be noted that there are no tweets, Iphones or vlogs involved). Alone, New York will crush them, but together, their energy can overcome any hardship.
Here is the trailer:
By Paul Dunca
Paul Dunca is a freelance saboteur looking for a change of pace. He writes reviews and opinion pieces to keep appearances and can be reached at various wishing wells around London.