Individuals equally artistic and audacious use the graffiti tag to expose but a tease of their identity and creative ability to a broader audience. Far more than a pedestrian paper card, this marvel of invention – admittedly differing in quality from one to the next – beckons every other bystander to stop and admire, often begrudgingly, its placement on a landmark if not its innate artistry. The tag isn’t merely a perfunctory scrawl; it’s an opportunity to communicate what one represents, who they are and what or whom they belong to. Each tag is a plea for recognition in the busied streets of a fast-moving metropolis that rarely takes time out to stop and see.
Where better to ‘bomb’ one’s mark than on the gigantic Home Run Apple, right in the centre of a New York Mets game? As the intertitle at the start of Adam Leon’s superb feature debut Gimme the Loot informs us, this risky, kingmaker feat hasn’t been done for 20 years. So naturally it’s just the sort of stunt required of young ne’er-do-wells Malcolm and Sofia – two standout performances from Ty Hickson and Tashiana Washington – in order for them to achieve a modicum of self-definition in a dizzying urban jungle, a spacious concrete sprawl granting unfettered freedom but teeming with situations in which the young pair are pidgeonholed by nature of class, gender and race divides. Parents are alluded to but never seen; these kids are out on their own, twiddling their thumbs down on the streets as affluent, over-privileged college kids plunge themselves into water towers on high.
The chemistry between the leading pair gives the film its unending charm. Leon’s camera parks itself at the other end of the street, and through tracks and steady zooms he pins an eye on Malcolm and Sofia’s naturalistic, heedlessly engaging dialogue while taking in the breadth of the city life that hurries around them. Not content to simply attach himself to his actors and forcibly encourage audience accompaniment at the expense of admiring the city’s own character, Leon sensibly situates his leads amidst an expansive environment of busy bodies, allowing for some of the city’s nuanced details to present themselves to a discerning eye.
It’s this eye for detail that illustrates the deep affection Leon has equally for both his characters and their city. Though NYC may be an unforgiving environment, it’s the human element that defines most disadvantages, and the city is therefore lovingly captured. One extended jogging sequence is utilised as an excuse for the camera to track the movements of a character’s paces and – once she’s dutifully left the frame – hold onto the last fleeting moments of a splendid city panorama before moving onto the next shot. This is New York City in the heat of summer, its sun’s glow sweltering off concrete, windshields and automobiles. Rainfall appears but for a few fleeting seconds. Even interior shots are barely lit so that the sunshine bursts in through the open windows to invite all outside.
The city is a mammoth sprawl; all players realise the need to become a giant, and to leave big enough a footprint. More often than not, they’re regarded as little more than ineffectual bugs. Sofia is considerably more diligent than her partner in her many attempts to attain money, but she falls prey time and again to the mocking masculine perception whose arrogance does not permit a lady’s foothold (and if it does, there’s a caveat). Malcolm is committed but distracted – naïvely so – by the opportunity to get his end away. He befriends a seemingly pleasant, well-travelled rich white girl in a luxury city apartment who undergoes a swift turn of character once in the company of her obnoxious girlfriends. Here, Malcolm loses the right to his first name and subsequently becomes known as ‘drug dealer’, perceived as dirty and treated as such.
This is a film concerned with appearances, and how two upstarts struggle against preconceived, conditioned definitions of their identity and capabilities. Outside of a few obvious segments and shaky acting, the sentiment is never rammed into our eyes and ears; in fact, one could simply watch the film as an amusing observance of two restless youngsters rambling on for several minutes at a time about nothing much in particular. Their unlikely insightful dialogues are the greatest joy of this understated small drama – whether that plastic apple gets tagged or not.