Gimme the Loot, Adam Leon’s first feature, adopts a plot that has proved successful in other movies about young people struggling for footing in broadening world. Like Do the Right Thing and Dazed and Confused, Gimme the Loot takes place over the course of a single day, as two friends, Malcolm (Ty Hickson) and Sofia (Tashiana Washington), try to realize an previously unachievable goal. Since the idea was first suggested in the late 1980s, no one has been able to bomb (read: graffiti) the New York Mets’ home run apple, which rises out of a big black hat in centerfield after each home run hit by the home team. If we hit that, Malcolm opines, we would be legends. The dream may sound frivolous, but what’s important and convincing is the spirit of the quest. Like all adolescent youths, the film’s young characters dream of a place of significance in a loud and crowded world.
From the film’s very first scene, in which Sofia and Malcolm stuff cans of spray paint in their shorts and shirt and dash out of a convenience store, Gimme the Loot proves a zippy, irreverent, endearing, and perfectly paced thrill. Leon mixes a variety of cinematic sensibilities. There’s the up-close, seemingly improvised candidness reminiscent of the banter in Kevin Smith’s Clerks; a kind of panoramic, cinematic verite that recalls Ramin Bahrani’s Man Push Cart; occasional wide-angle pans and zooms (alongside a great soul and R&B soundtrack) that pepper Gimme the Loot with the dazzle of a 70s exploitation film or the momentary high drama of a French Connection. But the real achievement is Leon’s script. Brash, funny, honest, and fluent in its vernacular, Leon manages to coax pure performances from his two young actors.
As the two friends work to raise the money they need to pay off a security guard to gain access to the Mets’ CitiField (which Sofia insists on calling “Shea,” because she refuses to call a baseball stadium the name of a bank), the goal of bombing the apple steadily recedes. Instead we become tangled in the rich interpersonal dynamics that tie together this quintessentially New York setting. At a warehouse flophouse, Sofia flirts with a good looking boy who buys off their lifted spray cans, only to have the money stolen by three white punks who jump her in the stairwell on the way out of the building. Malcolm tricks a stoner drug delivery man into lending him his stash, which leads Malcolm into the Manhattan apartment of the blond, young Ginnie (Zoe Lescaze). Their attraction and flirtations give way to a later betrayal of trust, a brokenhearted moment that is not merely a romantic letdown, but a metaphor for a city that has evolved into a world of sharp divides between the rich and white upper classes, and the street-bred regular people that provide New York’s real flavor.
These little vignettes build and sustain Gimme the Loot. Leon manages to keep us right there the entire time, hanging out on basketball courts, bouncing in and out of houses, wandering through subway stations. We never want to let go of Washington and Hickson, who are so charming and vulnerable, so honest and human, and we can’t help but fall for them. But will Malcolm fall for Sofia? That emerges as the film’s subtext, the slow evolution of a natural friendships into romantic attraction. With this love story, Leon shows mature restraint as both a writer and filmmaker. Bombing the Met’s apple may be the stated objective of this movie’s story, but what really happens during Gimme the Loot’s meandering story are the first flowerings of self-discovery. The goal is for Sofia and Malcolm to scribble their names on a corny oversized red apple so that these two nobodies from the boroughs can be seen by all the world. But what proves more important is that Malcolm simply learns to see Sofia.