There's a troubling statistic to be found at the heart of documentarian Emily Abt's narrative feature filmmaking debut Toe to Toe and it is that-- despite the fact that the United States keeps becoming increasingly diverse-- 87% percent of interracial friendships end at age 14.
Unfortunately, this fact is nowhere to be found in her ambitious Toe but rather buried in the thoughtfully constructed director's statement from Strand Releasing's production notes for the movie, which was screened as an official selection at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival before now kicking off its limited theatrical run.
While of course, it would've been a suspicious line to insert into the film's gritty, Thirteen style authentic teenage dialogue but nonetheless, with so many melodramatic subplots all fighting to distract you from her working thesis about the complexities of female black/white friendships, her point is completely lost.
Excellently crafted entirely on the popular Red One camera, Abt's well-intentioned drama does at times feel a bit like a sociological study due to the sheer amount of issues she tries to incorporate into an extremely busy screenplay.
However, Toe is elevated by the sharply defined, near docudrama like performances of her two main actors who floor us with the life they can breathe into two racially stereotypical roles. Initially meeting at a lacrosse try-out at an upper class prep school, the movie centers on the wealthy, misguided and unsupervised white girl Jesse (Louisa Krause) and the poor, hardworking black girl Tosha (Sonequa Martin) determined to receive a Princeton scholarship as her ticket out of her crime-infested D.C. neighborhood.
While it's obvious from the start that both girls-- like most teen girls discover as preparation for life as women-- are masters at the art of hiding imperfections to maintain a tough exterior, it's equally apparent that both individuals are essentially loners even in their school cliques.
Despite the fact that there's definitely nothing wrong with their social skills, Abt does a terrific job of illustrating the fact that the two are both opposites as well as ironic mirror images at the same time.
Although Jesse's plot feels a bit like a Thirteen rerun and Tosha may as well be a grown up version of Akeelah and the Bee meets Good Will Hunting neither one is quite sure who they really are or what they want in life.
Obviously, this is typical for the age as is the tendency for too much drama which is the film's Achilles heel as well, since-- similar to when an adult tries to intervene in a teenage misunderstanding to help two kids out-- we find we're presented with far too much extraneous detail, too many rambling stories, and noise to accurately gauge just what is going on in their burgeoning friendship.
Though, despite the chaos the girls face as girls, it's very revealing to see the way they try to control aspects of their life to make up for the rest with different rituals whether it's Jesse's tendency to seek fleeting sexual validation from random boys or Tosha's need to label and organize everything in sight.
While there's a lot of little details to admire in Abt's film including here extraordinarily in-tune understanding of what makes teenage girls tick, overall, we sense that-- like two girls separated from a fight on the lacrosse field-- we're flooded with so much information that we're not sure just what the main story is supposed to be.
Yet because it spends way too much time dealing with their jealousy over the affection of a Lebanese immigrant DJ, all Abt ultimately does is play into another gender stereotype by adding to the noise instead of bringing her own unique perspective and statistics about female interracial friendships to life.
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