Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.

A Film Review by James Berardinelli
Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.
3 stars
United States, 1993
U.S. Release Date: 4/2/93
Running Length: 1:37
MPAA Classification: R (Language, sex, mature themes)

Cast: Ariyan Johnson, Kevin Thigpen, Ebony Jerido
Director: Leslie Harris
Producers: Erwin Wilson and Leslie Harris
Screenplay: Leslie Harris
Cinematography: Richard Connors
Music: Eric Sadler
U.S. Distirbutor: Miramax Films

Chantel (Ariyan Johnson) is a 17-year old high school student living in a housing project in Brooklyn. With excellent grades, high spirits, and even higher aspirations, she intends to graduate a year early, get into college, then go to medical school. As she sees them, her future plans are set in stone. Then she meets Tyrone (Kevin Thigpen). Pretty soon, one thing leads to another, and Chantel ends up pregnant. Undecided about an abortion, she must face critical questions upon which her entire future rests.

Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. (the I.R.T. is a New York subway system) relates a story that has been told a million times before. It's also something familiar on a more intimate, personal level to countless Americans. Nevertheless, as common as the plot might be, the manner in which the film approaches at the subject is decidedly different. Leslie Harris brings a gritty perspective to this story that illustrates it isn't just boys who suffer in the hood.

Just Anther Girl on the I.R.T. offers a stark explanation for why there are so many teenage pregnancies: ignorance. In a discussion with some of her friends, Chantel claims that if a man and a woman have sex standing up, she can't get pregnant. Another girl says that pregnancy can't happen during a woman's period, and still another advocates withdrawal as a 100% foolproof method of birth control. These ideas are not just some filmmaker's plot device; they're a legitimate reflection of what a large portion of the teenage population (male and female) believes.

The questions that Chantel has to ask following her pregnancy are those that every girl in her position is confronted with. Should she have an abortion? Can she tell her parents? How will her boyfriend react? Unable to face reality, Chantel chooses to hide her pregnancy, faking midnight eating binges to explain her bulging midsection.

The greatest weakness of Just Anther Girl on the I.R.T. lies not in the story, but in an unfortunate tendency to preach to the audience. Having a characters launch into an impromptu, didactic monologue not only lacks subtlety, but ruins the atmosphere of the scene. Other movies have found better ways to integrate messages; Leslie Harris should have taken lessons from them.

The production values are low, but this serves to further heighten the sense of starkness. Acting, all done by complete unknowns, varies from excellent (Ariyan Johnson) to mediocre. There are times when some of the performers appear to be reciting something from a script rather than speaking from the heart. Chantel, however, is consistently played with high energy and an appealing sassiness.

Overall, while Just Anther Girl on the I.R.T. doesn't have the emotional depth of a Boyz 'N the Hood, it is not without power. Harris gives us the female perspective of growing up in black urban America, something no other film has dared attempt, let alone succeeded at.

© 1993 James Berardinelli

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