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Sam de Jong’s 2015 debut Prince was an appealingly rough-hewn account of a Dutch-Moroccan youth experimenting with low-level crime while dreaming of a fairy-tale life beyond the Amsterdam housing projects. The director adopts another starry-eyed striver in Goldie, about an 18-year-old daughter of the Bronx who’s already a celebrated hip-hop dance sensation in her own mind, even if she’s just busting her moves at the local community center, with her kid sister working the smoke machine. That suspension between can-do spirit and come-down reality pumps blood into the irrepressible heart of this scrappy tale, along with the natural charisma of model Slick Woods, making a disarming feature debut in the title role.
The iridescent color and energy literally pop off the screen in the squiggly animation (by Gareth Smith and Jenny Lee) that envelops the title character and punctuates the visuals with inventive wipes, washes, graphics and inserts. There’s dazzling color also in the orange glow of Goldie’s dyed buzz cut and eyebrows, not to mention the neon shades of her statement-making fashion choices. When she flashes her gap-toothed smile, it’s clear that low self-esteem is not an issue, though plenty of other problems surface during her determined odyssey.
Goldie has been promised a featured role as a dancer in a music video for local rapper Tiny (A$AP Ferg). She needs to submit an audition tape first, so she shoplifts a skimpy yellow onesie and enlists her adorable preteen half-sisters Supreme (Jazmyn C. Dorsey) and Sherrie (Alanna Renee Tyler-Tompkins) to be her fangirl camera crew, one of a handful of infectious early scenes that swiftly sketch in the close bond of solidarity that unites them.
But hurdles start appearing almost immediately. Goldie gets fired from her discount department store job, has an altercation with her mother’s scuzzy drug-dealer boyfriend Frank (Danny Hoch) after lifting his cash, and then her mom, Carol (Marsha Stephanie Blake), is arrested on unspecified felony charges. That forces Goldie to grab Supreme and Sherrie and flee the shelter where they’ve been staying since losing their home, in an effort to avoid having the girls whisked off by child services and put into the system.
Goldie is not one to let her dream die without a fight. Subsisting on pizza slices, she shunts her sisters from the doorstep of one friend or family member to the next (each new character is introduced with their name splashed like graffiti across the screen, and spoken off-camera by Supreme and Sherrie). She fixates on a sunshine-yellow faux fur coat in a local store window, becoming convinced that it will seal her stardom in the video.
Raising the purchase price for the coat by selling Carol’s Oxy stash, she finds a buyer in smack-talking fly girl Princess (Angela Griszell), who unwittingly provides a sleek blonde wig that Goldie snatches from her bathroom. But she keeps running into obstacles, like Frank angling to get his cash back, or sleazy sexual opportunist Jose (Jose Fernandez), trying to stiff her on a deal. Her father Richard (Gbenga Akinnagbe) is not the only one telling her that calling child services is her best option.
As Shawn Peters’ bouncing camera follows Goldie through the vividly drawn environment, accompanied by an eclectic music selection built around the base of composer Nathan Halpern’s dreamy score, it’s easy to go along with her belief that she will make everything work and keep what remains of the family intact. For a while, anyway. It’s predictable though no less poignant for it when reality starts chipping away at Goldie’s drive, above all when the music video is revealed to be an amateurish enterprise that looks like the gateway to nothing more than a lousy fee.
As coming-of-age lessons go, de Jong’s film doesn’t exactly break new ground by piercing the fantasy bubble of instant fame as the key to a new life. The writer-director is more interested in examining how self-motivation can create a force field of invincibility, even if there’s always someone waiting in the gritty real world to stomp on it. That process takes on an almost mythical dimension when Goldie finally gets her version of a magic cloak, only to find that its powers are limited. While Woods’ brash vitality is the movie’s motor, it’s in the moments when Goldie drops her bravado and reveals her vulnerability that the story becomes more than a reckless adventure. It segues in the moving final scenes into a sensitive depiction of a young woman’s saddening first experience of the world of grown-up decisions.
This second feature is both a natural progression from Prince and a step up in terms of accomplishment for de Jong, mixing professionals with non-actors in a milieu grounded in street life but thrumming throughout with the alternate reality of fabulousness and fame that Goldie struggles to keep alive in her head. Its charms far outweigh its flaws.
Production companies: Twentieth Century Fox, Vice Films, AGX Production
Cast: Slick Woods, George Sample III, Danny Hoch, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Khris Davis, Edwina Findley Dickerson, Alanna Renee Tyler-Tompkins, Jazmyn C. Dorsey, Shaquila Angela Griszell, Jose Fernandez, A$AP Ferg
Director-screenwriter: Sam de Jong
Producers: Luca Borghese, Ben Howe
Executive producers: Vincent Landay, Jim Czarnecki, Eddy Moretti, Shane Smith
Director of photography: Shawn Peters
Production designer: Nora Mendis
Costume designer: Miyako Bellizzi
Music: Nathan Halpern
Editor: Robert Grigsby Wilson
Aminations: Smith and Lee
Casting: Kate Antognini, Damian Bao
Venue: Berlin International Film Festival (Generation 14Plus)
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