Our Song


          While he made an intriguing directorial debut with GIRLS TOWN,
  a 1996 semi-improvised coming-of-age portrait of a trio of young urban
  females that netted him the top prize at Sundance, Jim McKay has carved
  a career as one of the more influential independent producers of the last
  half of the 1990s. Via C-Hundred Film Corporation (formed with Michael
  Stipe), he has made public service announcements, music videos and
  produced films like Tom Gilroy's
SPRING FORWARD, award-winning shorts
  such as Lisa Collins'
TREE SHADE, and terrific documentaries including
  Chris Smith's
AMERICAN MOVIE and Hannah Weyer's LA BODA. But
  there's cause for celebration, because McKay has returned to the director's
  chair, helming his own script for a gemlike independent film called
  
OUR SONG. While some detractors may feel that he is repeating
  himself because this film revolves around a trio of young girls --
  Jocelyn, Maria and Lanisha impressively acted by Anna Simpson,
  Melissa Martinez and Kerry Washington, respectively -- the truth of
  the matter is that McKay has only grown as a filmmaker.
OUR SONG
    
is a richer, more mature, if still slightly flawed, work.

          Shooting in a pseudo-documentary style, but working from a tightly
  crafted screenplay, McKay focuses on three high school friends in Crown
  Heights, Brooklyn who are spending the summer hanging out, shopping
  (and shoplifting), and participating in the Jackie Robinson Steppers
  Marching Band. The film simply unfolds as the girls cope with the little
  traumas of daily life, whether it's facing the closure of their school
  because of asbestos or negotiating the terrains of romance and sex or
  simply hanging out together.

          Undoubtedly, one may ask, "Why would I want to see that?" Well,
  the answer is, to witness a rare slice-of-life that focuses for a change
  on the female perspective. It's amazing that McKay, a thirtysomething
  Caucasian man, could create these full-bodied, believable Latina and
  Black teenage girls but he has. Unlike some filmmakers, he does not
  condescend or preach. McKay also amazingly captures the familial
  interactions between mothers and daughters in rich details. Jocelyn,
  who has aspirations for a career as either a singer or an entrepreneur,
  has a nice relationship with her mother (Rosalyn Coleman) who
  sometimes seems barely a grown-up herself. Maria, who learns
  she's pregnant and sees it as an excuse to leave the band and school,
  is resentful of having to shoulder the burden of looking after her
  smart-mouthed brother and often fights with her own mother (Carmen
  Lopez), signs that don't bode well for her own path as a mom. Lanisha
  arguably has it the best of the three. Despite her parents' divorce,
  her mother (the wonderful Marlene Forte) and somewhat unreliable
  father (Ray Anthony Thomas) clearly have her best interests at heart.

          McKay beautifully captures the subtle changes and nuances that
  lead these young woman to begin to stake their claim in the world.
  Cracks in their relationships begin as Maria confides about her pregnancy
  to Lanisha but not to Jocelyn. For her part, Jocelyn has begun to pull
  away from the others when she is accepted by other girls from the band
  who invite her out for ice cream. As the film ends, school is about
  to begin and Lanisha and Maria come to a parting that definitely signals
  a change in their friendship. In a wordless end-credit sequence,
  Washington and Martinez eloquently capture that and the result is
  heartbreaking.

          While there are some minor flaws in
OUR SONG, it is a rich work
  that introduces three extraordinary young talents (Kerry Washington
  has already become the breakout star with roles in
SAVE THE LAST DANCE
  and LIFT) and marks a maturation in filmmaker McKay. While he remains
  an important force in the independent film scene, he has stated his
  desire to focus on writing and directing in the future. If he continues
  to make the kind of leaps and bounds he has from
GIRLS TOWN
    
to OUR SONG, film goers will have all the more to cheer about.


                                  
Rating:                B+
© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.