Are you ready for an incisive, gritty and heartbreaking movie about the career of a pre-teen girl rapper? Didn't think I was either, but P-Star Rising is as engrossing and inspiring as its kickass heroine, proving that big surprises can come in unassuming packages.
The film follows the bumpy four-year ascendancy of young Priscilla "P-Star" Diaz, a micro-dynamo who has been dropping science since before she lost her baby teeth, outdueling older emcees on the streets, and captivating New York City nightclub crowds way, way past her bedtime. P-Star is the real deal: industrious, smart, sharp and amazingly levelheaded for her age. Unfortunately, her aggressively ambitious father Jesse shows all the warning signs of an overbearing stage dad. He had a dizzyingly brief, forgettable run in the mid-'90s rap game, a lost era that still dogs him like a malevolent but sad ghost. With his hangdog looks and haunted eyes, he could be a showcase role for John Turturro.
Jesse may be living in the past, but his family, including shy older daughter Solsky, is living in a cramped, shoebox-sized "temporary housing" apartment, which Dad can just barely manage to keep over their heads. The fight for success and survival increasingly falls on P-Stars slender shoulders, a challenge she's more ready to face than the adults around her. When she finally lands a record deal, Jesse spends the bonus money in a heartbeat, and his clashes with a manager he feels wants to make P "too bubblegum" really boil down to money.
This desperation to succeed at all costs is easier to understand once we've met the girl's estranged mother, a perpetually recovering crack addict who drifts in and out of their lives.
As devastating as these scenes are, there is also much to cheer, as when P rocks her Cuban and Puerto Rican heritage on the legendarily cheesy and massively popular Univision variety spectacular Super Sabado Gigante. Not every kid does her homework on a jet, but not every kid is this talented, and not every documentary is this involving.
One show only at 7 p.m., Monday, July 26 at the Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor; 734-668-8463.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.