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Our Song

Posted by martinteller on November 1, 2013

It’s late summer, and three 15-year-old Brooklyn girls — all members of the “Jackie Robinson Steppers Marching Band” — ponder their next move as their high school is being shut down for asbestos removal.  Maria (Melissa Martinez) discovers she is pregnant… she and her aloof boyfriend (D’Monroe) are both opposed to abortion, but Maria is uncertain about the responsibility.  Lanisha’s (Kerry Washington) parents are divorced… she lives with her overworked mother, but maintains healthy contact with her father.  Joycelyn (Anna Simpson) has dreams of pop stardom, and finds herself drifting towards a new set of friends.

One of those rare films that manages to be about so much while seeming on the surface to be about so little.  The only big plot point is Maria’s pregnancy, and even that is handled with a relatively small amount of fuss.  Certainly not the overblown drama you would expect to see in the typical Hollywood movie.  All music is diegetic, all camerawork is unobtrusive and functional.  This is a film that lets its characters breathe all the life into it by themselves.  And they are up to the task.  It feels like a refreshingly honest portrait of everyday living for an urban teenager.  They talk about clothes and boys, they try to make — or avoid — hard decisions, they have occasional conflicts with their parents, they try to prioritize their dreams and goals.  And it’s all handled so casually, nothing is emphasized as an Important Moment.

It’s also worth noting that for a film about inner city minorities, there is no sign of crime (save some minor shoplifting by the girls) or gangs.  At one point Maria shares a joint with her boyfriend, otherwise there is no mention of drugs.  There are no shootings (although an acquaintance does commit suicide, an event shown to touch the lives of our three heroines in subtle ways).  There is no child abuse or alcoholism.  It is not a message film about the plight of urban youth… except in the sense that dealing with everyday reality is hard for anyone.  It’s a world full of doubt and insecurity and struggle and setbacks.  But it is also a world of small joys, the rewards of friendship and family and community.

The three stars were making their first (second, for Martinez, who had a tiny part in The Substitute) feature appearances, and all show endearing naturalism.  Washington has by far gone on to the greatest success, but I found Martinez to be most compelling screen presence.  Although she has continued working, it looks like entirely minor roles.  It’s too bad, I would like to see more of her.

The titular song, which the band is practicing and also pops up on the radio, is “Ooh Child”, one of my favorites.  The version here is not the original by The Five Stairsteps, but a fine cover by Chyna.  “Ooh child, things are gonna get easier/Ooh child, things’ll get brighter”.  One hopes they will for these three girls, but they seem like they will persevere despite their obstacles.  They’re three lovely characters to watch and spend time with.  Rating: Very Good (86)


2 Responses to “Our Song”

  1. nancy said

    I just watched it – loved it! Thank you for the recommendation!

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