JUST ANOTHER GIRL ON THE IRT

Directed by Leslie Harris. U.S.A., 1992.



 
 

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Just Another Girl on the IRT is a story about surviving in the inner city America of the 90s. It is a story about raising your ideals and expectations above the dictates of your surroundings. Most of all, however, it is a story about being female, black and seventeen. 

The "Girl" of the title is Chantel Mitchell, a bright, mouthy teenager who lives in a high-rise Brooklyn project. When not getting straight A's at school, looking after her younger brothers or working in a Manhattan gourmet food shop, she spends her free time hanging out with her girlfriends, flirting with boys and planning which outfit to wear to which party. She's got the future all mapped out with her ambition to go to college and become a doctor and so plans to enjoy the present to the full. 

But whilst Chantel scores high for outspokenness and street smarts, she is, ultimately, naive and innocent. When Tyrone, who drives a jeep, lives in the right part of town and knows all of the lines enters her life, he offers her a glimpse of her dreams and, at the same time, shatters them. 

With its provocative themes and irresistible rap sound track, Just Another Girl is clearly aimed at young audiences. The dialogue is fast and upbeat, whilst the camerawork and narrative devices borrow from a variety of sources, with the result that the viewer is torn between involvement and clinical detachment. One minute the hand-held camera and jumpy editing of Cinema Verite create a documentary feel, as if observing a raw slice of urban life, the next Chantel directly addresses the camera, sharing her thoughts and dreams and forging an intimate bond with the viewer. Homage is even paid to classical Hollywood devices such as that at the very start of the film where Chantel's voice acts as that of narrator, promising to 'tell it like it was', thus setting the scene for an extended flashback throughout the film. 

The main strengths of the film, ones which more than make up for the minor flaws which betray its low budget origins, lie in the characterisations and dialogue. If strong female characters remain rare in American film, strong, black female leads are virtually unheard of. Chantel, played by talented newcomer Ariyan Johnson, is clearly the apex of the film. In fact, there are hardly any scenes in which she does not appear and some of the funniest moments occur when she is talking with her female friends. Men have a far less significant role, existing merely to be gently mocked - as in the case of Gerard, Chantel's first boyfriend, blatantly played for laughs by rising US comedian Jerard Washington - or, like Tyrone (Kevin Thigpen), to have a catalytic effect. 

The main characters, whilst at times infuriating, are ultimately irresistible, so much so that the audience find themselves rooting for them, sympathising with their plight and willing them to triumph over the seemingly insurmountable odds of environment and circumstance. The same could be said of the film itself, for, through sheer determination, director-writer-producer Leslie Harris has managed to create that most rare of cinematic animals: a low budget film that's high on laughs, originality and fresh new talent. 

Kathryn Wilson 
 
 
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