Any real hip-hop head will recognize the name Roxanne Shante, the rap battle prodigy who rose to fame as an adolescent and set a precedent for future female emcees. Here's hoping that Roxanne Roxanne, the new music biopic about the artist born Lolita Shante Gooden, will put her back on the radar. The film chronicles Roxanne's teenage years -- her brief time in the limelight -- when she became one of the greatest in the game. You don't need to know much about her to find plenty here to pique your interest; this Michael Larnell-directed picture stars Mahershala Ali and Nia Long, and promises an underdog story of a young girl (played by newcomer Chante Adams), who not only rap-battles but also battles familial demons.
Larnell has an eye for interiors -- soft yellows and blues feel hushed against the backdrop of the hectic Queensbridge in '80s New York, and he makes a home out of the cramped space Shante shares with her mom (Long), three sisters and, temporarily, her mom's boyfriend. Don't let her braces and habit of thumb-sucking fool you: She spits fire rhymes between those metal mouth bars. It's a shame, then, that Larnell tends to call cut when a scene starts picking up steam.
There's a great editing moment with three haunting scenes stitched together that show Shante in the same position as she has sex with him, screaming, then gives birth to their son, screaming, then is dragged across the floor by Cross (Ali), also screaming. It's a tragic look at how this brilliant woman can outdo all her male peers and yet still be trapped in her life because of a cruel man.