And if I were handing out another accolade for February, that would have to go to this compelling, super-realistic indie, a character-driven affair written and directed by Emily Abt.
Ms. Abt, an award-winning filmmaker previously known for such documentaries as Take It from Me and All of Us, makes her first foray into dramatic fare here.
This film made a big splash at Sundance a year ago, when it was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. Set in the Washington, DC area, it revolves around an unlikely love triangle which comes to test the already tenuous bond of friendship forged between a couple of high school classmates, one black, one white, who play on the lacrosse team.
African-American Tosha (Sonequa Martin), who hails from Anacostia, can only afford to attend the exclusive prep school because she’s on a full scholarship. She and her two siblings are being raised in the ‘hood by their doting grandmother (Leslie Uggams) while their overworked single-mom (Dionne Audain) works double shifts to keep a roof over their heads on her security guard salary.
Tosha is the hope of the family because her younger brother, Miles (Thulis Dingwall) is weak and sickly, and her older brother, Kevin (Gaius Charles) is unemployed and lazy. Despite already being a father, the latter lays around the crib getting so high he lets his baby daughter (Jonnie Marie Home) crawl out onto the street unattended.
Somehow, Tosha keeps her nose to the grindstone, ignoring the dysfunction at home and the daily taunts coming from jealous girls on the block. They love teasing her mercilessly as she walks down the street to catch the bus for everything from acting white to having once allowed the boys to see her panties for a couple of bucks.
Tosha doesn’t find much relief at school either, where she finds it hard to fit in with the spoiled-rich kids. Because of all of the above, she focuses intently on her goal of being admitted to Princeton, which she sees as her ticket out of the ghetto.
Jesse, at least by outward appearances, has a relatively-easy go of it in life. After all, she lives in a sprawling mansion in the suburbs and has her own sports car. However, because her absentee single-mom is always away on business, the unsupervised teen suffers from loneliness and the consequences of a series of poor choices that have led to promiscuity, substance abuse and STDs.
For Jesse spends the bulk of her free time slumming, since she has a thing for Go-Go music and Jungle Fever for brothers, which explains why she gravitates towards hanging out with Tosha. But the plot thickens when she falls for the charms of a smooth-talking DJ (Silvestre Rasuk) already involved with Tosha. At that point, all bets are off, and the two go “Toe to Toe.”
Hell hath no fury like a sister scorned, especially for a wigger.
Excellent (4 stars) Unrated Running time: 104 Minutes Distributor: Strand Releasing
Watch the trailer for Toe to Toe: