Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Frienemy Mine: Toe to Toe

Although she can barely tolerate her vapid wealthy classmates and the annoyingly politically correct faculty, a prep school scholarship student puts up with them in hopes of realizing her dream: admission to Princeton. Right, well at least she will be prepared for the Ivy League. Until then she has to deal with her trampy frienemy and the Muslim deejay they both have eyes for in Emily Abt’s indie drama Toe to Toe (trailer here), which opens Friday in New York.

Tosha lives in D.C.’s economically depressed Anacostia neighborhood. Jesse lives in a McMansion. Yet, both are virtually ignored by their single parent mothers. Tosha’s mother gives disproportionate love and attention to her underachieving brother who is already a neglectful father himself. By contrast, Jesse’s mother is more interested in jet-setting to her next international NGO-busybody conference than the mundane details of parenting.

Tosha uses her resentment to fuel her drive to excel academically. Jesse deals by having risky unprotected sex with any guy sharing her hip-hop “slumming” sensibilities. One approach is much more constructive than the other. Of course, the Rashid, the middle-class Muslim go-go deejay is like catnip to Jesse. Rashid is actually more attracted to Tosha, but she will not put out, whereas Jesse . . . well, there’s the hormonal triangle in a nutshell.

Though never prurient or in any sense erotic, T2T presents a decidedly sexualized portrait of high school kids. Louisa Krause gives a riveting performance as Jesse and while her resume boasts some heavy Off-Broadway credits (including original productions from Neil Labute and Charles Mee), she frankly looks too young to be filming her partial nude scenes.

Krause and Sinequa Martin prove quite formidable indeed as the on-again off-again friends and lacrosse rivals. Unfortunately, their characters just do such stupid things, even by high school standards, that T2T simply exhausts viewer patience. Still, even though differences of race and class are central to the film’s conflict, Abt deserves credit for not leaning on hot buttons or indulging in easy moralizing. If anything, T2T is most critical of the liberal prep school administration’s gutlessness when an evidently racial motivated incident develops on campus.

Despite two fine lead performances, T2T’s fusion of the coming-of-age story with class-based social drama is not especially memorable. Still, T2T is at least indicative of Krause and Martin’s considerable potential. Okay as a not especially irritating indie film (which is actually saying something lately), T2T opens in New York at the Village East this Friday (2/26) with cast appearances scheduled for the initial weekend screenings.