goldie review

Goldie writer/director Sam de Jong comes from the world of music videos, and fittingly, the music video is both the driving narrative and visual inspiration of his debut feature film. But this is not some fairy-tale vision of New York: de Jong’s grainy, sun-kissed ode to the city of hustlers highlights the gritty, unforgiving world from which Slick Woods‘ titular Goldie is trying to break free. The result is a lively, kinetic film that dances between the natural and the fanciful, centered on a dynamo of a cinematic character played by the first-time actress.

Woods, an Instagram model and Rihanna protégé, makes a tour-de-force acting debut in Goldie, which follows the titular streetwise 18-year-old dancer looking for her big break. Living out of a family shelter with her mom and two younger sisters, Goldie swipes money from her mom’s drug-dealing boyfriend to add to her stash she’s building to buy the perfect canary yellow fur coat at the local vintage store for when she inevitably shoots to fame. But that dream of making it big as a dancer in a rapper’s music video suddenly becomes dire when her mother is arrested and Goldie is forced to go on the run to keep her sisters out of child protective services. But her obsession with that canary yellow coat only grows as Goldie is convinced that the music video gig will solve all her troubles.

Goldie takes on a dreamlike aimlessness as the dancer wanders the city with her sisters in tow, pleading for help from her friends and barely-acquaintances. She at first turns to Janet (Edwina Findley Dickerson), her former teacher who welcomes her into her idyllic white-fence home, but only if Goldie turns her sisters over to child protective services. Goldie storms out in a huff and turns next to Eli (George Sample III), the devoted ex-con friend who helps her as much as he can before her less-than-legal dealings causes him to back out. Then there’s Jose (Jose Fernandez), Goldie’s abusive older ex who still holds a sway over her. Her late-night wanderings eventually bring her face-to-face with Frank (Danny Hoch), the short-tempered boyfriend of Goldie’s mom who accuses her of stealing before ingratiating himself to her by inviting her in on a drug deal.

Goldie manages to escape any serious consequences by the skin of her teeth as she cycles through all these encounters, single-minded in pursuit of that “perfect look” which appears to Goldie in surreal visions throughout the film. There’s almost a childlike sweetness to Goldie’s all-consuming obsession, despite the dark, adult things she has to do to get it. She steals and borrows from her friends and enemies to build her costume, but Goldie presents it as a sort of childlike fantasy, a reminder that despite the responsibility that has been levied on her shoulders, Goldie is still just a teenage girl. The animated interstitials that occasionally pop up throughout the film only strengthen that childlike perspective that the film takes, as if this seedy New York world is still a playground to Goldie.

But apart from playfully presenting Goldie’s childish perspective, de Jong rarely goes further than skin deep. The film doesn’t have much to say about the world that Goldie resides in, and at some point, the film begins to feel like an empty style exercise. Those dreamlike visual flairs and Goldie’s iridescent attitude abruptly stops once we get to the music video shoot — as if Goldie’s childhood has suddenly ended. The film doesn’t really delve into her interiority as this happens, only letting Woods carry the dejected emotions of her character. She does so impressively, but it is a stark departure from the lively visuals of just a few minutes ago.

De Jong makes an impressive debut with Goldie, which shows promise of a scrappy, ambitious style that brings the music video to the big screen. But it’s Woods who is the real breakout star of this film, delivering a magnetic debut performance that is nigh unforgettable.

/Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10

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