Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. (1992)


(director/writer: Leslie Harris; cinematographer: Richard Connors; editor: Jack Haigis; music: Eric Sadler; cast: Ariyan Johnson (Chantel Mitchell), Kevin Thigpen (Tyrone), Ebony Jerido (Natete), Washington Paula (Jerard ), Chequita Jackson (Paula), Tony Wilkes (Owen Mitchell), Karen Robinson (Debra Mitchell); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Leslie Harris/Erwin Wilson; Miramax; 1992)

“Just another slice of life film that gets derailed.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A rare film written and directed by an African-American woman, Leslie Harris, in her debut feature. Though offering a sympathetic portrayal of its loudmouth heroine and a disturbing view of teenage ignorance, its sassy characterizations lead nowhere but to an unconvincing contrived happy ending. The resolution offered serves as a mockery for the film’s attempt to be viewed as the real deal.

It’s a black experience film about a hotshot African-American 17-year-old Brooklyn high school student named Chantal (Ariyan Johnson) who lives in the projects, is an A student who wants to be a medical doctor but has a bad attitude and curses like a fishmonger. She’s a hard person to like but the filmmaker gives her love, as we watch her ride the I.R.T. to work as a clerk in a grocery story, hassling a white stereotyped customer, feel the pain of poverty as she observes how her quarreling parents live from paycheck to paycheck, goes off in a history class because the teacher won’t stop his lesson to talk about the black experience, hangs with her homegirls, and fends for herself with boys who want to get into her pants.

The seemingly in control Chantal, who aims not to make the same mistakes as her mom and neighborhood girls in the slum, turns out to be ignorant of the facts of life. At a party she meets the smooth-talking Jeep-driving Tyrone and gets pregnant by engaging in unprotected sex. This leads to all her aspirations to escape the ghetto come crushing down on her.

Ariyan Johnson’s lively in-your-face performance is the glue that holds things together. But the earnest performance is undone by a weak script that settles for belaboring the obvious, amateur production values, and a quick-fix solution to the plot’s dilemma that doesn’t work. It doesn’t even get across a clear message about unwanted pregnancies, which was supposed to be at the heart of the film. In the end, it’s just another slice of life film that gets derailed.

It won a special jury prize at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival.