Shot in seventeen days on a shoestring, this first-time feature from writer-director Leslie Harris – a black woman understandably fed up with male dominance in movies – is cause for celebration. Just Another Girl is not just another movie. Harris offers an adrenalin rush of energy and talent. Her artfully stylized, explosively funny film also manages to be deeply moving without jerking easy tears.
The "girl" of the title is a seventeen-year-old bundle of smarts and attitude named Chantel Mitchell. A star is born in Ariyan Johnson, the dancer who plays her, in an inspired debut performance. Chantel is as hot for parties and boys as the next girl on the I.R.T., the subway she takes from school in Brooklyn to a job in a Manhattan gourmet shop. Just don't call her a statistic. She's an A student with an eye on college and getting out of the projects, while avoiding crime, drugs and unsafe sex. Though her friend Natete (Ebony Jerido) may hate condoms ("I want to feel a real man inside of me"), Chantel makes sure her man, Gerard (a hilarious Jerard Washington), keeps it covered.
As female rappers such as Nikki D, Cee Asia and BWP cook on the soundtrack, Chantel and her pals make their own hip-hop poetry on the streets. Harris perfectly catches their humor, vulnerability and righteous anger. When Chantel meets the seductive Tyrone (Kevin Thigpen), questions of pregnancy and abortion arise, steering the film into a more conventional dramatic structure. But Harris is a bracing new voice; she keeps her big little movie brimming with the pleasures of the unexpected.