Beleaguered by this year’s relentless winter? Still find the effects of seasonal depression preferable to purchasing a sun lamp? Consider basking in the burst of cinematic sunshine that is Gimme the Loot, a breezy odyssey through the borderlands of Brooklyn and Queens in the company of two wonderful characters over a couple summer days.
A clip from a fictionalized, but authentic-feeling, New York public-access TV show from the 1990s sets the foundation for the elegantly simple plot: Two graffiti artists discuss their failed attempt to tag the Mets home run apple at Shea Stadium. “Even if it’s not Speedy and Rocks that do it,” one says, “somebody’s gonna bomb the apple, and they’re gonna get mad props…”
Fast forward 20 years, and though Shea Stadium is no more, the home run apple has been carried over to the Mets’ new home of Citi Field, where it remains untagged. Two young, Brooklyn street artists struggling to make their literal and figurative marks set their sights on the “goofy-ass apple.”
Sofia (Tashiana Washington) and Malcolm (Ty Hickson) even have an in: A friend who works at the stadium offers them access to the apple for $500. From there, we follow Sofia’s and Malcolm’s adventures as they attempt to gather the loot necessary to get into Citi Field, which Sofia still refers to as Shea; “I’m not calling it after some stupid bank,” she protests.
Gimme the Loot coasts on its sharp, observant script (by director Adam Leon) and the endearing performances of Washington and Hickson. More firecracker than TNT, Washington’s intense Sofia brandishes a barbed tongue to assert herself in what is largely a boys’ world; she is also sensitive and, despite occasional forays into petty crime, possessing of a righteous ethical compass. Hickson’s Malcolm is more outwardly affable than Sofia, but he also has a teenage boy’s intense self-consciousness, which is revealed in a beautifully awkward conversation with a rich girl named Ginnie; when she asks his favorite food, Malcolm answers “vanilla milkshakes,” but he quickly changes his mind:
“I’m more interesting than that,” he decides. “I like … mint chocolate.”
The film is loaded with finely tuned scenes like this. An attempted break-in and jewelry theft amusingly fizzles when it is revealed that Champion, a jail-hardened friend of Sofia and Malcolm, suffers from delusions of criminal grandeur. A marijuana delivery cohort of Malcolm’s unleashes a superb diatribe about the idiocy of wearing flip-flops in Brooklyn. Malcolm is irked when rival graffiti artists from Queens bomb his and Sofia’s work with blue and orange, the team colors of the despised Mets.
Though the film feels loose, Leon is firmly in control. From the snappy dialogue to the gorgeous cinematography by Jonathan Miller (this is one of the best-looking, most thoughtfully composed true indies I’ve seen in a long time) to the pitch-perfect musical cues, Leon establishes and maintains a propulsive, exuberant tone even as our heroes encounter trials that would feel at home in a work of Italian neorealism. Gimme the Loot is a lovely film in its own right, but it is also one of the great New York movies, a formidable subgenre.
Like a scruffy but charming stray dog, Gimme the Loot manages to be simultaneously vulgar, street-smart and huggable, and it offers ample rewards for anyone willing to give it attention. It is also the perfect companion to warm the spirit on a bitter, winter’s day.
NOTE: I, like others, am confused about the proper spelling of our female protagonist’s name. Many sources, including the film’s official website, list the character as Sofia. However, other at least semi-reliable sources say Sophia, a spelling that seems backed by the character herself in the film: