Adam Leon’s Gimme the Loot (2012) is a brisk and refreshingly jolly look at life on the streets of New York from the perspective of two young graffiti artists, Sofia (Tashiana Washington) and Malcolm (Ty Hickson) aka Shakes. We are introduced to the characters as they shoplift paint canisters from a DIY shop, aided by their heavily tattooed Hispanic getaway driver Champion (Meeko). The two Bronx street kids hatch a plan to get revenge on their Queens-based rivals by tagging the Mets Apple, an iconic symbol of the city. Utterly determined, they set about raising the $500 they need to gain illegal entrance to the baseball stadium.
However, a series of obstacles stand in the duo’s way. The weather is sweltering and everyone in the city seems intent on ripping them off before they can even get started. Their best option lays in Malcolm’s unlikely relationship with Ginnie (Zoë Lescaze), a white girl he sells grass to and who’s apartment they decide to rob. While never hiding the difficulties in the lives of his protagonists, Leon (who both wrote and directed the film) never allows Gimme the Loot to drop into self-pity. Malcolm and Sofia have had a hard time of it for most of their lives and they know no better, making a virtue of their tough resolution to do whatever it takes.
Sofia seems the harder of the two – tough talking, aggressive and sassy, even when she’s being manhandled by her rivals or ripped off by two dudes. Malcolm is the more innocent and less capable of the two, losing his trainers half way through the film and spending much of the rest of it walking around the Bronx in ever dirtier socks. All the performances are strong – Champion is a stand out – and the two leads are particularly good. Their relationship (part professional, part friendship with undercurrents of a budding romance) is beautifully played out as they bicker, scheme and tease each other.
Ultimately, the pair’s scheme to tag the Apple is a MacGuffin on which to hang a story about youth and resilience. Here are lives that are not blighted by drugs nor destroyed by poverty, though the impossibility of raising the $500 is indicative of their lack of resources. It would have been easy to show these kids as not being hopeless or having a future, but they have an ethos, a code and a mission in their obstinate and energetic pursuit of tagging. With Gimme the Loot, Leon presents a slice of New York life which is fresh, funny and free of cynicism.