Our Song

on January 21, 2000 by Jordan Reed
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   It's bold for an artist to tell a story from the point of view of the opposite sex. Chaim Potok wrote a stunning first-person narrative of a 10-year-old girl in his novel "Davita's Harp," and Todd Solondz's depiction of female pre-adolescence in "Welcome to the Dollhouse" brought the subtle horrors and embarrassments of that age to life with an almost disturbing objectivity. So, too, does writer/director Jim McKay successfully portray life from the female perspective in his second feature film, "Our Song."

   Taking a cue from his debut, "Girls Town," which also looked at the lives of three high school girls, McKay once again microscopically delves into the trials and tribulations of the lower middle class in the outer boroughs of New York City. Lanisha (Kerry Washington), Joycelyn (Anna Simpson) and Maria (Melissa Martinez) are all going through some growing pains in the waning days of a hot Brooklyn summer. As their individual priorities begin to shift away from their friendship and band rehearsal responsibilities, their once-immovable triumvirate falls into disarray.

   "Our Song" has an admirably raw, unkempt air about it, as do its performances. The young actresses--all appearing on-screen for the first time--were plucked from local high schools, lending an effective documentary feel to the proceedings. McKay's script drifts along with a deceptive laziness, rarely overemphasizing or overdramatizing what could be seen as stereotypical perils of the project community. Like "Girls Town" but with less subjective, overt moralizing, he measures the importance of family, friends and environment in overcoming--or failing to rise above--adversity. No where is this more in evidence than in the scenes with the band, an actual group called the Jackie Robinson Steppers. The captured rehearsal that opens the film and a final performance near its end establish a sense of community pride, cultural splendor and dogged perseverance that no dialogue--be it written by man or woman--could hope to impart.    Starring Kerry Washington, Anna Simpson and Melissa Martinez. Directed and written by Jim McKay. Produced by Jim McKay, Paul Mezey and Diana E. Williams. An IFC release. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 97 min.

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