by Andrew Wyatt on Mar 11, 2020

It’s a rare person who exudes the sort of intensity and confidence that seems capable of bending reality to conform with their ambitions. Wannabe hip-hop dancer and street-smart Bronx denizen Goldie (Slick Woods) is that sort of person. Although she’s just 18 years old and currently living in a family shelter with her mother (Marsha Stephanie Blake) and two younger half-sisters, Goldie is the kind of ferocious soul who knows in her heart of hearts that she’s going to make it big someday. Admittedly, that certainty is not based on an honest self-assessment of her abilities. (Judging from the available evidence, she’s merely an adequate dancer.) What separates Goldie from the pack is her charisma, appetite, and sheer conviction. Simply put, she just seems to want it more – “it” being the immodest American dream of wealth, glamour, and celebrity – and her vibrating hunger is so forceful it feels like it could will her desires into existence.

Goldie, the lively sophomore feature from Dutch filmmaker Sam de Jong (Prince), portrays a few momentous days in the life of its eponymous heroine, leading up to a music-video shoot that she believes will constitute her big break. Goldie is the kind of character who’s difficult to like but easy to love. Personality-wise, she’s a restless snarl of jagged edges and bad judgment, but she harbors a good heart underneath the toughened skin that all semi-homeless kids cultivate. She thinks nothing of shoplifting a dress she can’t afford or of filching cash from her mother’s boyfriend (Danny Hoch), and early in the film she’s fired from her part-time retail job after clocking in late one too many times. On the other hand, she’s not hesitant about loudly condemning her mother’s drug-dealing, and the safety of little sisters Supreme (Jazmyn C. Dorsey) and Sherrie (Alanna Renee Tyler-Tompkins) is paramount to her. Dancing through Goldie’s chaotic and complicated life is that undying spark of certainty, the faith that better days are just over the horizon, once the world comes to its senses and acknowledges that she’s a star.

Goldie is hanging all her hopes on a local low-budget music-video director, who offers her an opportunity to appear as a dancer in an upcoming shoot. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter her mother is arrested at the shelter, throwing Goldie’s plans into turmoil. (The viewer never learns what the charges are, but one presumes it has something to do with the prescription drug-dealing she was doing with her sad-sack boyfriend.) With the specter of child-welfare services looming, Goldie and her little sisters take to the streets in search of help, pinballing between potential lifelines: a wary co-worker (George Sample III), a former teacher (Edwina Findley Dickerson), a drug-dealing ex (Jose Rodriguez), and even mom’s boyfriend Frank.

Goldie desperately needs a place for her and her sisters to crash, but she’s simultaneously trying to sell her mother’s oxycodone stash for some quick cash and cobbling together a new gold-and-yellow ensemble for her video shoot. The centerpiece of the latter is a dazzling, canary-colored mink coat that hangs in the window of a local furrier, an item that Goldie has evidently been lusting after for some time. For her, this coat is not just an extravagant article of clothing: It’s a totem that embodies the glamorous life that seems almost within reach. Goldie’s resolve to drop hundreds of dollars on a fur coat when she’s scrambling to find asthma medicine for her little sister might seem like the height of irresponsibility to an outside observer. However, in her mind that coat will make her stand out, and standing out at the right moment in front the right people is the key to unlocking a better future for her and her family.

Goldie might sound like a work of gritty social realism, but writer-director Sam de Jong spatters his feature with stylistic gestures that lend the film a beguiling vibrancy and an undeniable fairy-tale twinkle. Most conspicuously, animators Jenny Lee and Gareth Smith occasionally paint over de Jong’s footage with wriggling colors – outlining Goldie’s silhouette in coral-pink as she dashes down the sidewalk, for example, or adding lemon-yellow bursts to a street performer’s drumming. Whenever a new character appears, de Jong throws up a squiggly title card that Supreme and Sherrie read with an enthusiastic shout, as if the girls were announcing a new vocabulary word on Sesame Street. When Goldie attempts to evade a pair of security guards in a discount store, the sequence is staged like a Scooby-Doo gag, with characters popping in and out of a maze of clothing racks.

These fanciful touches give Goldie the feeling of a bright-eyed hip-hop parable and prevent the film from tilting into exploitative miserabilism, even as Goldie confronts some truly menacing and wretched situations. Indeed, even when the film is at its darkest, de Jong isn’t above a little formal playfulness: One ominous sequence in a housing-project stairwell attains an almost Lynchian uncanniness through repeating shots, as though Goldie had wandered into a Matrix glitch. Unfortunately, as the dynamic animated flourishes trail off in the film’s latter third, Goldie starts to feel like a more conventional indie drama about characters living on the margins of society. There is arguably a story-based justification for this shift, for as the film begins to lean away from the fanciful, Goldie herself grows more desperate and begins to take more perilous risks. Still, it’s hard not to feel a little disappointed as the film’s funky style slackens – paradoxically, just as Goldie’s make-or-break music-video shoot approaches.

Combined with de Jong’s solid direction, Shawn Peters’ lo-fi lensing and Nathan Halpern’s offbeat score lend Goldie a scrappy vigor that’s appealing but rarely outright dazzling. What truly sets the film apart from other street-level character studies about African-American life is Slick Woods herself, who is not only arresting in appearance but proves to be charismatic and expressive as an actor. An Instagram personality who successfully transitioned to mainstream fashion work, Woods's unconventional look – gapped front teeth, shaved head, platinum-blond eyebrows – radiates flip yet feisty defiance. As Goldie, she moves through her Bronx environs in a manner that suggests radical self-confidence rather than performative provocation, a warning to all the haters that she will take neither shit nor prisoners.

At the same time, Woods deftly conveys her heroine’s tense, often heartbreaking struggle to resolve her inherently conflicting needs and wants. Admirably, de Jong’s screenplay resists clunky emotional declarations: Almost everything that that the viewer learns about Goldie’s inner turmoil is conveyed through Woods’ expressions and body language. At the heart of Goldie’s dilemma is the tug-of-war between her vehement, almost pathological self-reliance and the necessity of sometimes accepting help and advice from others. Goldie’s strut is so unabashed, it’s easy to forget that she’s still a teenager and therefore still working out adult riddles like impulse control and long-term planning. Deep down, Goldie seems to comprehend that she will need to defer some dreams to attain the stability that her sisters need. Unfortunately, she has to go through hell and back before she can admit as much to herself.

Rating: B-

Goldie is now available to rent or purchase from major online platforms.