Imbued with street sense yet made with family-friendly limits on harsh language and violence, “Anne B. Real” is both a shamelessly contrived and unalterably sincere portrait of a high school girl who writes rap poetry in her Bronx ‘hood. Her success against long odds points to this urban film’s innate American optimism. Its portrayal of a blossoming creative mind makes it a multicultural descendant of Lorraine Hansbury’s “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.” Winner of aud award at Pan African fest and best drama at the new Santa Monica fest, pic has a chance at tapping into its target base of young teens, but only after a proper 35mm print is struck to replace the second-rate vid transfer screened at fests.
Cynthia (Janice Richardson) is half-Latino, half-black, and surrounded by nothing but obstacles to artistic fulfillment: Her fatherless family is stuck in a welfare rut; brother Juan (Carlos Leon) is a drug-addicted small-time crook; mother Janet (Sherri Saum) gives her no props for her diligence as a writer. Unbeknownst to her, her lyrics are being sold by Juan to pseudo-rapper Deuce (Eric Smith), who wants to cut a record. Her only cheerleader is chipper g.f. Kitty (Jackie Quinones).
Director Lisa France (co-writing the script with Antonio Macia, from his original story) constructs film primarily through Cynthia’s p.o.v., providing Richardson — in a perf that feels extemporaneous — space to build a precocious character fraught with self-doubt but driven by an inner voice that keeps popping up on her notebook pages. Because of this foregrounding of Cynthia, pic is able to downplay what could have easily become another standard street drama involving betrayals and murder; instead maintains a firm grip on a story about finding one’s own direction.
Film’s feminism and its position somewhere between all-out melodrama and verite recalls “Girlfight,” but without that pic’s deliberate polish; it’s a roughness that helps “Anne B. Real.” Though Cynthia’s use of “The Diary of Anne Frank” as inspiration seems a bit arch, it works within the context of the muted drama and an array of natural performances and shaded characterizations.
Vid transfer tends to muddle the original lensing, which appears to be solidly pro. Gotham street scenes are well-captured.