Get ready to hear the name Chante Adams. She’s the standout in Michael Larnell’s by-the-books, but nevertheless very engrossing Roxanne Roxanne.
Backed by producers which include Forest Whitaker and Pharrell Williams, Larnell can count on more than just Adams’ star-making performance to make her film feel vitally alive. Nia Long (Lemon) and, recently Oscar-nominated actor, Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) are particular standouts here as well.
Taliyah Whitaker plays Shante as a little girl living in the Queensbridge projects challenging men twice or even three times her age to freestyle rap battles. As she gets a little older her talent gets refined, but so does her chronic ability to shoplift. Shante wants out and knows the only way is through her raw talent for music. At home it isn’t any better, as her prone to alcoholism mother Peggy’s (Nia Long) bad choices in men seeps through Shante’s own outlook of the male sex. When one of Peggy’s lovers ends up stealing her life savings, the best mom can say to her daughters is “never trust any man.”
The film is a stylish musical biopic about Queens born rapper Roxanne Shante, who busted into the hip hop scene with 1984’s “Roxanne’s Revenge.” The hit took its roots when she was just 14 years old. An aspiring producer living next to her neighbourhood laundromat invited her up to his crib, when she was doing laundry no less, to record what would eventually be known as her biggest.
The track, recorded in a single take, is raw, riveting and real. No wonder radio fell in love instantly with its catchy beat. Next thing you know she’s invited out on the road, makes new connections (many of which bad influences,) and gets herself involved with Cross, a local drug dealer expertly fleshed out by Ali that abuses her verbally and physically. He also makes her lose her virginity to him, which leads to her first child.
Adams, in what’s shockingly her big screen debut, portrays Shante from late teens to her thirties without flinching an eye. The fact that you believe the drastic aging process is a testament to her tremendous acting skills, which encompass a wide range of emotions just through the look in her eyes.
As previously mentioned, the film is conventional to a fault, following in the footsteps of musical biopics such as Walk the Line, and Ray. As such, you can’t help but predict that it will likely be a rags to riches story with the rise and fall of its artist. The only difference here? This is about a female artist and that fresh perspective does bring some newfound blood to the genre, which is great to see. It also helps that Shante wasn’t that well known an artist outside the hip-hop world, meaning that most people probably don’t really know the whole backstory or, much less, the songs.
According to press notes, Larnell thoroughly researched the film with lengthy and extensive interviews with Shante and her circle of friends. She does the artist proud though by artfully using her camera to capture both the story and its subject. She and Adams make a formidable team and finely stamp their own mark on the hip-hop movie genre with Roxanne Roxanne.
A star is born in Chante Adams in a musical biopic that's filled with energy.