Iím not really a big REM fan any more. I used to be, a long time ago, but now I think their record contract ought to be revoked. I have a controversial theory that no rock band should be allowed to record after a 10-year period. In my mind, rock would stay fresh and vibrant and we wouldnít have to listen to crappy releases issued by record labels from bands with nothing important left to say.
What does this have to do with a review of OUR SONG? Michael Stipe, front man for rock band REM served as co-producer, and itís one of the more interesting things Iíve seen someone in REM do in a long time. As head of his own film production company for the past five years, Stipe has been making yet another name for himself. His successful credits include VELVET GOLDMINE and BEING JOHN MALKOVICH. McKayís past credits include GIRLS TOWN and the concert film REM TOURFILM. Coming together again with OUR SONG, he and Stipe have produced a film that nicely captures the milieu of being a teenager, with all its extremes of uncertainty and carefree joy.
Shot with a budget of $500,000, a no-name cast and a modest story line, OUR SONG introduces us to Lanisha, Maria and Joycelyn. Teenagers in New York City, they have just learned their high school is about to be closed for removal of asbestos. They are anxious about what schools they will be filtered out to, what they will do when they graduate and how life will turn out in general. Serving as a bond between all the young women is their participation in the high school marching band, the Jackie Robinson Steppers.
While this may seem like rather prosaic subject matter, teen life in this film is so accurately expressed that the end result is an all-around likable film with unassuming performances. In fact, the dialogue and acting comes so naturally, you wonder where McKay recruited these people. We effortlessly infiltrate their lives and eavesdrop on their teenage angst, giggles and gossip.
The film has such a genuine feeling, I often found myself squirming in my seat experiencing painful deja vu. When Lanisha bickers with her mother over what time she will be home later that evening, the rolled eyes, exasperated sighs and impatient exchanges served as a classic reminder of just how shitty the teenage years can sometimes be.
OUR SONG lacks the exploitation that seems to accompany most youth movies of the day, and for this reason I canít imagine a major studio would have ever backed this project. Michael Stipeís willingness to produce an authentic film about everyday teens earns him kudos in my book. If he continues to produce films as enjoyable as OUR SONG, Stipe is one rock star who ought to keep his day job.