Toe To Toe's Message Feels Cheap

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Toe to Toe
Directed by Emily Abt
Strand Releasing
Opens February 26, Village East

Spreading social awareness is a valuable pursuit, naturally, but when filmmakers take it upon themselves to don the cape of an activist hero while constantly reminding audiences of their nobility, the message feels cheap. Anthropology-minded writer and director Emily Abt unintentionally exuded that attitude in All of Us (her heartfelt but po-faced feminist doc about African-American women with HIV), and while her first narrative feature shows improvement, it still straddles the line between progressive exploration and self-congratulatory melodrama. On the lacrosse fields of a D.C. prep school, the rich, white, troubled, and therefore slutty Jesse (Louisa Krause) befriends, partly out of novelty, Tosha (Sonequa Martin), a determined black girl on full scholarship who wants to escape her inner-city neighborhood. The camaraderie quickly sours—or, at least, develops love-hate complications and believable class and racial tensions—when a handsome Muslim horndog (Raising Victor Vargas' Silvestre Rasuk) comes between them. The performances are top-notch and occasionally moving, but Abt nearly smothers it all with some embarrassing coming-of-age teen-angst false notes, plus clichéd Ivy League ambitions, a cartoonishly neglectful mother, STDs, unfair expulsion, martyrdom for both the rich and poor, and a non-reciprocal lesbian crush. Adolescence sure gets harder every year.

 
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