The Tribeca Film Festival is littered with movies featuring harrowing stories and lofty themes. However, one offering about a high school kid in California and his sneakers may be among the best.
“Kicks,” which made its debut this week at Tribeca, follows Brandon (newcomer Jahking Guillory), an Oakland teen who believes the right shoes are the ticket to girls and popularity.
"Sometimes I wish I had a spaceship where I could hang out and it’s quiet — and no one could f--- with me,” Brandon tells the audience.
Brandon finds the answer to all of his problems when a street dealer sells him a pair of original Air Jordan basketball sneakers. However, when they are stolen right off his feet the next day by a local gangster named Flaco (Kofi Siriboe), Brandon recruits his friends Albert and Rico (hilariously played by Christopher Jordan Wallace and Christopher Meyer, respectively) for a coming-of-age journey to recover the prized sneakers.
Like Brandon’s coveted Jordans, “Kicks” is fresh to death. The movie sports a killer soundtrack, using various hip-hop cuts from the likes of Nas and Kendrick Lamar as stand-in chapter titles. It is also fun, as director Justin Tipping vibrantly captures drug-fueled parties, muscle car burnout contests and the thrill of chasing girls.
But violence is never far away. “Kicks” is an unflinching portrait of inner-city life, both the good and bad. Tipping frames children’s toys next to bongs and a baby lying in bed next to a gun. There are tons of laughs, but they often come in the face of disturbing violence, as guns get pulled over minor disagreements. Tipping also masterfully captures the way young men in this world fetishize everything from porn to drugs to, of course, sneakers as painkillers for far greater economic problems and the inherent contradictions that emerge — Brandon’s shoes were already stolen when he bought them in the first place.
“Kicks” feels like a cousin to “Dope,” a similar urban tale that was the toast of the Sundance Film Festival in 2015. Both show the power of making room for more diverse stories, making “Kicks” one of the true gems of this year’s festival.