A hip-hop pioneer gets her moment in "Roxanne Roxanne," but not enough of her music comes through in the rags-to-riches story.
When we meet Shanté Gooden (played by Chanté Adams) in 1982, she's the 13-year-old oldest daughter of the hard-working Ms. Peggy (Nia Long), living in Queensbridge, a housing project in New York. She's constantly hustling for money shoplifting clothes and reselling them, for one thing especially after a boyfriend steals the nest-egg Ms. Peggy was saving for a new house, sending Ms. Peggy spiraling into alcoholism.
One of Shanté's best moneymaking skills is winning rap battles. But it isn't until she records a track, an answer to UTFO's "Roxanne, Roxanne" that she nails in one take, that she starts her rise to stardom, under the stage name Roxanne Shanté.
With stardom comes more struggles, as she deals with upstart rivals and shady road managers. But her biggest struggle comes when she falls in love with the much-older Cross ("Moonight's" Mahershala Ali), a drug dealer with a violent side.
Writer-director Michael J. Larnell presents the episodes of Shanté's tumultuous life with vital energy and style to burn. He revels in the '80s period look, particularly when costuming Ms. Peggy.
In focusing so much on the soap-opera aspects of Shanté's early years, though, "Roxanne Roxanne" shortchanges the audience with the music that her life inspired.
– Sean P. Means
"Roxanne Roxanne" screens again at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, at the following time and venue:
• Saturday, Jan. 28, 3 p.m., Redstone Cinema 7, Park City.