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Our Song 

Our Song, a new independent feature that opens this Friday in Chicago, is a powerfully realistic movie about teenagers. Set in the Crown Heights area of Brooklyn, the movie follows three teenage girls during the last weeks of summer.

Joy (Anna Simpson), Maria (Melissa Martinez), and Lanisha (Kerry Washington) are all part of the Jackie Robinson Steppers, a band of brass, drums, and flags that is the pride of neighborhood. The group and their friendships provide an important network of support for the girls as they navigate the obstacles of adolescence. Lanisha's turning 16, and her boyfriend is turning away. Joy's making good money at an upscale retailer and is thinking of "upgrading" her social calendar. And Maria has just found out she's pregnant and doesn't know who to tell.

In lesser hands, this material would make for a banal after-school special; but writer and director Jim McKay (Girls Town) is clearly comfortable not only with his characters but also the lower-class urban milieu they inhabit. The movie's rhythm is perfectly laid-back without ever becoming tedious. Though it doesn't have the visual flair of a film like George Washington, Our Song moves from scene to scene with a confidence that belies its indie roots.

Contributing enormously are the three leads, each making their film acting debut (though Washington went on to co-star in Save the Last Dance). Their naturalistic style meshes nicely with the documentary-like hand-held camerawork (Jim Denault, The Book of Life), and their interactions will ring true to anyone who's spent time with high schoolers. Mention should also be made of Marlene Forte and Ray Anthony Thomas as Lanisha's parents, who are wonderfully convincing.

It's not often that there's even one worthwhile teen movie in theaters, much less two. But I highly recommend both Our Song and Crazy/Beautiful.Though very different in tone, they each provide a compelling snapshot   f urban teenagers, the difficulties they face, as well as a hope for the future. 

 J. Robert Parks

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