The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



There is no greater joy for a film fan than the feeling of having a movie come out of nowhere and blow you away. Most movies (even the good ones) are so over-hyped that there's little surprise when you actually see them. But when you take a chance on a lesser-known film and discover a treasure, a natural high comes over you. This happened to me in 2000, when I first saw a movie called Lift.

Directed by DeMane Davis and Khari Streeter, Lift is so many wonderful things all at once: bold, literate, poignant, entertaining. Kerry Washington plays Niecy, a young woman who works in an upscale department store. On the side, she is a “booster.” Using her inside knowledge of security procedures, Niecy steals expensive items from the store and sells them at discounted prices to her family, friends, and other “clients.” For her efforts, she is a hero and, in the early scenes at least, she seems to find little that is morally objectionable about this activity. After all, the store can afford the occasional loss, while her clients are delighted to buy brand name clothing at a fraction of the cost. Niecy is by no means the only person boosting: her competitor Christian (Todd Williams) uses an approach that is more flat-out robbery, involving a team of boosters breaking into stores after hours. He wants her to join the team, but she prefers a solo approach. Eventually, she does get lured into Christian's schemes and must face the painful repercussions of this choice.

We also get glimpses into Niecy's personal life. She has an on-again/off-again relationship with Angelo (Eugene Byrd). He's not entirely thrilled with her second job and tells her so in an extraordinary scene that begins with a joyous revelation and ends with a bold confrontation. Angelo is trying to get out of the life of crime, so he has little tolerance for her continued indulgence in it. Also causing pain is Niecy's stormy relationship with her mother Elaine (Lonette McKee). Elaine is a demanding woman, somewhat cold and distant to her daughter, of whom she constantly disapproves. The story expertly weaves the plot threads of Niecy's personal and professional lives, concluding with a final scene that mixes tragedy and optimism in a manner that sends you away with a chill running down your spine.

One of the major dramatic elements of Lift is that Niecy eventually realizes her side job comes with a cost. The film is most definitely a morality tale about the way we can sometimes find destructive ways of making ourselves feel better or more important. Through some unexpected events in the story, the main character is forced to reexamine her actions, as well as the underlying factors that lead to them. One of the biggest influences for Niecy is her desire to measure up to what her mother expects. Washington and McKee have several powerful scenes of mother/daughter conflict. Through them, we come to understand that the concept of “boosting” has several meanings here: it refers to the activity of stealing clothes as well as Niecy's desire to boost her self-esteem by playing the professional.

The casting of these two actresses lends gravity to the personal side of Lift that is absolutely essential. Their often tumultuous relationship centers the film, giving us a more acute psychological explanation for Niecy's crimes. The dynamic between Niecy and her mother is so authentic that it will certainly ring true for many audience members.

I knew nothing about boosting going in, but to Lift's credit, it made me feel like an expert when it was over. This is the kind of movie that not only takes you to a new world, but does so with such authenticity that you feel like a fly on the wall. Lift is so powerful, such an emotional punch in the gut, that it can't be ignored. Beautifully written, directed, and performed, it stands as an amazing accomplishment in independent cinema. Like all the best motion pictures, it entertains you and leaves you with something to think about long after it's over.

( out of four)

Lift is rated R for language, some violence, and drug content. The running time is 1 hour and 25 minutes.

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