Life’s lyrics

Kicking off the Detroit Film Theatre’s fall lineup.



Virtually plotless, writer-director Jim McKay’s Our Song ambles on like life itself, a series of small crises on the way to an ambiguous future. Like his last film, Girl’s Town, it focuses on a group of teenage girls, this time in the black and Latino milieu of Crown Heights in Brooklyn. MacKay, who is neither black nor Latino (nor a teenage girl) has a nonexploitative affinity for his subject, a feeling for both the pressures and pleasures of adolescence, and the tenuous bonds that young people make on the way to forging their identities.

This is one of those movies where you’re not so much told a story as asked to spend some time with a few characters, an approach very dependent on subtle writing and acute performances, both of which are present here. Of his trio of protagonists, Lanisha (Kerry Washington) is the watchful one, the one who will escape her situation; Maria (Melissa Martinez), already pregnant though still encased in her baby fat, has an incipient moroseness which could lead her down the victim path; Jocelyn (Anna Simpson) is the well-adjusted one, with a lively curiosity.

All three girls are part of a marching band, the Jackie Robinson Steppers (a real group), which allows McKay to punctuate his film with some kinetic footage. The movie is naturalistic without any heightening bleakness, which is both its main virtue and its one fault; McKay’s anecdotal approach is admirably restrained but ultimately shapeless. Still, you can trust him to avoid dramatic clichés and if the accumulation of unresolved situations becomes a little wearying, well, that’s the way things are.

Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward, Detroit), Friday through Sunday. Call 313-833-3237.

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for Metro Times. E-mail him at

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