CENTS is a reflective, intelligent story of a 12 year old middle school girl, Sammy Baca, an outsider who is being raised by a single mom and who desires a cell phone like all 12 year old girls do. She attempts to raise the money for one various ways before coming up with a plan involving donated pennies; as a calculus whiz, she realizes a way to raise “millions” via a plan involving these pennies, while skimming some to help with her cell phone cause.
CENTS is a real, minor-key surprise; director Christopher Boone tries and largely succeeds at pulling off a fairly straightforward story but in a problematic milieu. There are lots of films about little kids, and lots of films about oversexed teens, but not so many that try to credibly deal with 12 year olds and their “in-between” concerns. Lots of fretting over Facebook and cell phones for these girls, but they are recognizable people in their desires, strengths, and failings. If parts of CENTS feel like an “Afterschool Special” for those of us who still remember such things, this feeling is a positive, as we realize there isn’t that much out there anymore for “tweens” that deals with a female protagonist such as CENTS’ Sammy with dramatic sensitivity.
The cast is good, with newcomer Julia Flores a strong lead in a difficult part; Boone writes authentic adolescent dialogue and Flores does well with a character that is not designed to be cute or beloved, but plausible. The characters in CENTS are unique, strong, vacant, shallow, but real; Boone creates a credible world, helped perhaps by the lack of known faces in the cast and the New Mexico locations. He doesn’t pin things down so that I always know exactly what is going on, despite his protagonist being basically another misunderstood kid longing for more. The film is tentative and flickering; it never grabs you by the throat and takes command. In the wrong light, a film like CENTS might seem little ado about not much; but the raw, real-person plainness of CENTS is earned, and should be noted. Here’s hoping Boone and Flores (and the rest) can find opportunities to build on this small, but notable success.
CENTS is available on-demand and on dvd and blu-ray on its website.