Enjoying a warm reception at Sundance and SXSW alike, Adam Leon makes his feature debut with this affectionate tale of youth which spans two days in the sweltering heat of the Bronx. A New Yorker himself, Leon uses his knowledge of the city to make it a character in its own right, accompanying a young tag duo as they embark on a personal mission to graffiti one of their neighbourhood’s infamous landmarks and cement their reputation.
To collect the cash needed for their scheme, Malcolm (Ty Hickson) and Sofia (Tashiana Washington) submerge into an underground economy, partaking in petty crime and calling in favours across all manner of venues. Leon illustrates his city with relish, occasionally shifting away from Malcolm and Sofia’s quest to settle on various street-side pastimes and calling on friends and unprofessional actors to play colourful locals.
Scrappy and childlike in nature, Hickson and Washington have an organic partnership on screen. Having worked with Leon on his short film Killer, Hickson had the part of Malcolm written for him and plays him likeably. Naive and playful, he’s both a source of frustration and relief for Washington’s Sofia, who can switch from well-mannered to bolshie in a second. It’s a timeless use of character that emanates sweetness and a kind of innocence that oddly fits the rocky street corner lifestyle that the pair indulge in.
Leon has shown his city with a big heart in spite of its countless flaws. Issues of race and class are addressed frankly; the involvement of a moderately upper class girl using Malcolm for all he’s good for is cruel and, as both encounter their share of mistreatment there’s a sincere message that accomplishment is hard to come by.
The treatment of Malcolm and Sophia’s story is just shy of perfect, with guerrilla inner city filming, a gorgeous soundtrack comprising of dated hip hop and soul with smatterings of contemporary New York sounds and an accomplished use of what feels like every corner of the couple’s turf, at times using the characters as a catalyst for the city’s events instead of the other way around.
For his first offering, Leon’s homage to home makes for joyful viewing as he balances character and location harmoniously, proving that a large budget production simply won’t work for some stories and can be all the better for it.