Our Song

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Our Song

Set over the languorous closing weeks of summer vacation in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Jim McKay's quietly revelatory Our Song could be described as a coming-of-age story and an issue movie rolled into one. But it's a tribute to the breezy, understated naturalism of the direction and performances that the film doesn't fit neatly into either category. Poised on the gawky precipice between adolescence and adulthood, the three heroines haunt the grounds of a decrepit housing project, veering between girlish reminiscences about ice-cream flavors and discussions of the prospect of motherhood, and other incongruously weightier subjects. While all three young women face momentous changes in their lives, McKay gives the impression that he's spying on part of a conversation that's been going on for 15 years. He implies that his protagonists have a history and a future together (or perhaps apart) that can't be squeezed into 90 minutes of frenzied melodrama. If Our Song seems minor, it's only because McKay and his persuasive cast never overreach for effect; with this shrewdly scaled-down sense of proportion, insights bubble up artlessly from the characters' lives. First-time performers all, Kerry Washington, Anna Simpson, and Melissa Martinez star as friends who hang out in the downtime between low-wage summer jobs and family responsibilities. Each is riddled with anxiety about the coming school year—due to asbestos removal in their high school, they may have to register in far-off Queens—but only Martinez has more to worry about than the long commute. Her unwanted pregnancy, the result of a careless fling at a party, constitutes the film's most pressing dramatic crisis, as her motherly instincts conflict with the practical realities of raising a child with an absentee father and dire living conditions. Though Washington and Simpson's problems are minor by comparison, McKay treats them with equal generosity while paying close attention to the subtle changes in their group dynamic. As an inspired counterpoint to the meandering drift of their running dialogue, McKay's heroines are players in the Jackie Robinson Steppers, a real-life marching band that gives Our Song local flavor and a tangible feeling of civic unity. The band's spirited rendition of "Ooh Child," the eponymous "song," comments on the action with a directness that's as unexpected as it is emotionally overwhelming.