It’s been a while since we’ve had a street-scene movie as rough and tender and right as “Gimme the Loot,” a fable about getting by on a summer’s day in the boroughs of New York. Written and directed by Adam Leon, the film looks like it cost two nickels to make (coins or bags, take your pick), but it keeps its sights low and focused on the neighborhood hum and casual Darwinism of life in the city.
Our heroes — you might not call them that, but that’s your business — are Sofia (Tashiana Washington) and Malcolm (Ty Hickson), teenage partners in petty crime, graffiti-tagging, and the general hustle. The film opens with the two stealing cans of spray paint from a Brooklyn hardware store, but their big dream is to tag the untaggable: the giant Home Run Apple in the Mets’ home stadium of Citi Field. (Sofia, a cultural nostalgist, refuses to call it anything but Shea.)
The time period is now but the vibe is urban-timeless: doo-wop numbers and great, gritty R&B songs fill the soundtrack, mocking the character’s small-time ambitions. Malcolm knows a guy, Pedro, who can get them into the stadium after hours for $500, and “Gimme the Loot” follows him and Sofia as they try to scrabble together the money, splitting up to crisscross the city and reconvene as necessary.
As it lopes along, the movie offers a warm but very sharp portrait of New York’s have-nots and their uneasy relationship with the haves. It’s a world where you have to grab what you can or it will (and does) get grabbed from you. Since no one else cares, self-interest is the only way to get through the day, and the patchwork freedoms that offers are offset by a greater frustration which only rarely finds its voice.
Sofia understands this, and one of the real strengths of “Gimme the Loot” is Washington’s portrayal of a tough, smart girl measuring out her emotions in doses. Sofia is ferocious when crossed and cynical at most other times, but her scenes with a handsome good guy of a graffiti maestro (Melvin Mogoli) are touchingly shy — two people exploring the pleasures of simply liking each other.
The comparatively goofball Malcolm has shorter-term goals in mind — get booty, get paid — but in his friendship with Sofia we see a decent kid trying to outgrow his foolishness. The most tartly observed scenes in “Gimme the Loot” involve his delivery of weed to a downtown rich girl, Ginnie (Zoë Lescaze), whose bohemian entitlement renders her a Martian in Malcolm’s world and the movie’s. (“What’s Nantucket?” he says at one point, baffled.) At home in the streets of the Bronx and Queens, he’s at sea with the playfully cruel Ginnie and her friends; as ragtag as this movie is, it’s crystal clear on the city’s hierarchies of class, race, and neighborhood.
“Gimme the Loot” is witty enough to include a pot dealer whose street cred would be ruined if anyone knew he’d played varsity golf for Cornell, and non-judgmental enough to have us rooting for Sofia and Malcolm as they enlist the services of a grizzled second-story man (Meeko) to try to rip off Ginnie. Mostly it’s a footloose tour through the noise and sun of a summer metropolis and an unassumingly wise portrait of a friendship. And it has a heart: When Malcolm brings some roses home for his mom, he cares enough to steal the very best.