Our Song

The "a film by" credit is an issue of contention amongst filmmakers today. Directors have the right to use the credit within the credits, but some writers feel slighted. If somebody writes a unique script, then somebody else directs it, shouldn't the writer have just as much right to the credit? Writer/director Jim McKay (Girls Town) sidestepped this issue by listing everybody who worked on Our Song after the "a film by" credit. It shows that McKay views this as a collaborative process. Our Song is not a typical film. It has an unconventional narrative, and a documentary-like feel. It's as if McKay is following people around and recording their lives versus making a movie.

Our Song follows the lives of three girls living in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. It is one of those long, hot summers where everything will be different by the time it is over. That is the only cliched element about the movie. Lanisha (Kerry Washington, Save the Last Dance, 3D), Joy (Anna Simpson), and Maria (The Substitute) just discovered their school has asbestos, and is closing. Next year, they face the possibility of going to a school at least an hour away. They live in the projects, and have little to look forward to, but each is trying to make the most out of their situations. The only semblance of order they have is the Jackie Robinson Steppers, a marching band. McKay used the actual band after seeing them in action, and they bring a sense of life to a movie that otherwise has little else but talking.

To some, Our Song will be boring. But McKay uses this fly-on-the-wall approach to accurately convey the teenage sense of despair. The story sneaks up on the viewer, coming slowly out of the girls' experiences. Granted, they are trying to do something about it. Each girl has a different way of dealing with her situation. Joy wants to improve herself. She has a job that pays decent wages, and is hoping to get into a good school. Maria and Lanisha do not share her upward mobility or her aspirations, and begin to drift apart. Joy meets other girls in the band that are like her, and begins spending more time with them. Maria is the polar opposite. She is pregnant, which virtually ensures that she will never leave the projects. She does not want an abortion, and the father of her child will probably do nothing. If anything, Maria's situation will worsen. Lanisha is in a holding pattern. She will most likely stay in the projects, but will not be worse off. She is trying to deal with her parents' separation.

The best word to describe Our Song is 'raw.' Of the man films that tackle teen issues, very few do so like this one. Our Song does not draw any conclusions, it just presents the situation. Again, because of they way McKay presents the subject matter and the shaky camera, the film resembles a documentary. He takes the time to let the actors deal with the situations, and fleshes out their reactions and the reactions of people around them. Most of the actors have limited film experience. This is a good thing here. It takes away the distraction of looking at familiar faces, and gives their acting a natural feel. It is an oddly unsettling experience at times, but not a bad one.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 36 minutes, Rated R for language and some teen drug use.

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