The Girl Is In Trouble


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Columbus Short in The Girl Is In Trouble
"The Girl Is In Trouble may not have many new things to say, but it says them well."

An ordinary guy down on his luck, a woman as mysterious as she is beautiful, a dead drug dealer and talk of big money. It's a familiar plot, here played out on the streets of New York by a cast of rising stars with some impressive work already behind them. The Girl Is In Trouble may not have many new things to say, but it says them well.

August is an aspiring DJ who immigrated to the US from Nigeria as a child and hasn't yet given up on the American dream. He's played by Columbus Short who has previously demonstrated versatility in the likes of Quarantine, Cadillac Records and Whiteout and who here employs a natural affability that makes him easy to side with as he blunders into trouble. He even manages to rescue, for the most part, an exposition-laden voiceover which aims to situate the film in noir territory but is too often a distraction. Into August's life bursts Signe, a young woman on the run, one moment climbing into his bed and the next leafing through his wallet. Alicja Bachleda, replete with the promise of her remarkable breakthrough in Ondine, still can't quite manage to hide her Polish accent, adding another layer of mystery to her Swedish character. Signe has seen too much but her fear of being hunted down is tempered by the realisation that she could blackmail the rich guy at the centre of it all. Newbie DJs don't find it easy to pay the rent. Will August help her?

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Fleshing out the story is an array of young gangsters among whom peace seems uneasy at the best of times. Solid performances and good scripting make them much more rounded characters than we usually see in such films. As Angel (Wilmer Valderrama) frantically searches for his brother - and for the people responsible for his brother's fate - he's also trying to run a business, bothered by phone calls and the need to keep people in line, and returning home to a grandmother (the excellent Miriam Colon) who doesn't think anyone should eat until his brother has the decency to join them. Nicholas, the villain of the piece, meanwhile, is all angular nervousness and dangerous uncertainty, Jesse Spencer embodying the paranoia of the city's precarious elite is a performance that would not be out of place in a David Cronenberg film.

Issues of class and social status loom large in a film that was produced by Spike Lee. August positions himself within a series of waves of immigration, people starting out on the Lower East Side and gradually climbing to the city's heights. Nicholas, from European Jewish stock, predates him; Angel, a Puerto Rican, came afterwards. With a nice apartment he can't quite afford, August is almost middle class by virtue of his ethnicity, and the pattern this establishes also raises questions about how much his ethical values are a product of circumstance. Nicholas outsources his problems; Angel does everything directly. August inhabits a stubborn middle ground where things seem straightforward until challenged by Signe, whose experiences as a woman have led her to interpret the world in a very different way.

The core story here may not be very complex and the pacing is sometimes uneven, but overall it's an impressive debut feature and a great showcase fora number of talents. It will be interesting to see what director Julius Onah can achieve as he grows more confident and finds his own voice.

Reviewed on: 24 Mar 2015
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A Lower East Side bartender becomes entangled in a murder mystery involving a desperate woman, a missing drug dealer and the scion of a powerful investment firm.

Director: Julius Onah

Writer: Julius Onah, Mayuran Tiruchelvam

Starring: Columbus Short, Wilmer Valderrama, Alicja Bachleda, Jesse Spencer, Miriam Colon, Paz de la Huerta

Year: 2015

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: US


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