Our Song Movie Review
A low-budget, low-income slice-of-life movie oozing with community atmosphere and authentic affinity, "Our Song" will likely come and go in a blip from your local art house theater. But it deserves better.
Simply but vividly portraying the largely uneventful dog days of summer for three project-dwelling teenage girls in Brooklyn's Crown Heights neighborhood, writer-director Jim McKay ("Girls Town") scores such supremely natural performances from his trio of unknown stars that you feel as if you're eavesdropping on their lives.
Kerry Washington plays Lanisha, a coy 15-year-old with enough little girl left in her to absentmindedly smile and rock her shoulders to and fro when she thinks about boys. But Lani is prematurely worldly as well, having been pregnant once already -- a secret she confides to her best friend Maria, who has just gotten knocked up herself.
Maria is played by Melissa Martinez with sympathetic fretfulness and a short-sightedness that deftly instills in the viewer a genuine concern for her, even though sometimes you just want to shake her out of her stupor of existential indifference.
The third girl is Joycelyn (Anna Simpson), who has begun drifting away from her friends after landing a part-time job at a mall skin care boutique that affords her a Tommy Hilfiger wardrobe and a new circle of pals with fatter (if only slightly) wallets.
"Our Song" follows these three through routine (little brothers, good and bad parenting, sleep-overs, boy troubles) and crisis (an acquaintance's suicide), tying everything together with two influences that may have a major effect on their lives: 1) They're all in the Jackie Robinson Steppers, a renowned marching band made of Crown Heights kids (the actresses really play with the band, and the music is great). 2) Their school has been shut down because of asbestos, meaning they will all be bussed to different campuses when summer is over, and Lanisha has been accepted at a girls' school on the other side of New York.
Although McKay displays the practical effects of their sometimes hard lives (the asbestos may have caused Lani's chronic asthma), he does not employ such developments as cheap sympathy devices, nor does the director attempt to pontificate about overcoming urban adversity. Instead he just observes, letting the characters grow and develop naturally, and subtly implies that hope can defeat despair.
Take special note of Kerry Washington's performance as Lanisha. Her eyes are always deep with thought and she is so credible as a 15-year-old that I was stunned to discover that she was 22 when the film was shot, and that she's the same actress who played Sean Patrick Thomas' savvy, street-smart sister in "Save the Last Dance."