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'Our Song'

High school girls face their troubles in 'Our Song'

Friday, September 28, 2001

By Barbara Vancheri Post-Gazette Staff Writer

In a way, Lanisha, Maria and Joycelyn are like high school girls everywhere. They love to shop (although in their case that often means shoplifting), thrill to the song "Ooh Child," go to the movies, flirt with boys, laugh themselves silly and splurge on pizza.

 
 
'Our Song'

Rating: R for language, some teen drinking and drug use.

Starring: Kerry Washington, Melissa Martinez, Anna Simpson

Director: Jim McKay

Critic's call:

   
 

In other ways, they must deal with problems blessedly foreign to most of us.

As the low-budget movie "Our Song" opens, they learn their high school is closing because of an asbestos problem. The teens, all 15 or 16 and from Brooklyn's Crown Heights section, figure they've probably been breathing the hazardous fibers all along. Figuring out where to transfer -- or whether to return to class at all -- is just one challenge.

Take Maria. A home pregnancy test confirms she's pregnant. When the topic of switching schools comes up, her mother insists she needs Maria at home to help with the bills. In fact, she'd like Maria to get a better-paying job than the one she holds at a bakery.

As the summer draws to a close, the girls spend part of their days rehearsing with the Jackie Robinson Steppers, a 60-piece marching band that combines precision, musicianship and a funky dance style. They wail and walk, drum and dance and are considered tops in their field.

This coming-of-age story captures how everything starts to change, as if a small tear in the fabric of friendship is about to get larger and larger.

Maria (Melissa Martinez) weighs what to do about her pregnancy, Joycelyn (Anna Simpson) is drawn to two new friends, and Lanisha (Kerry Washington) tries to keep on track while staying connected to her divorced mother and father and her friends. Although Lanisha's parents no longer live together, she spends time with each and their conversations provide an anchor in an unsteady world.

Money is always an issue, with Joycelyn's mother having a job but no sick days and Lanisha's dad and Maria's mother each working two jobs. One of the girls has endured a toothache for months and you assume she has no money for a dental visit. An acquaintance of the teens, overwhelmed by the arrest of her boyfriend, the energy level of her toddler son and the prospect of eviction, sees a drastic way out of her dilemma and sadly takes it.

"Our Song," now playing at the Manor and Denis, is presented in near documentary style. Although the Jackie Robinson Steppers are real and served as an inspiration for writer-director Jim McKay ("Girls Town"), the story is fictional. This is the first film for the three leads and they do a beautiful, natural job of bringing these girls to life. I wish we had learned a little more about the band members and how they rose to such prominence and can afford trips outside the city.

Although they face obstacles, they also march to the lyrics of their song, "Ooh Child," which promises that some day, they'll get it together, get it all done and walk in the rays of the sun.

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