Toe to Toe—or, as I was referring to it by the time the end credits rolled, Toe to Toe: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire—is another exercise in putatively sympathetic, ostensibly instructive teen issue-ism that winds up biting off more urban high school malaise than we can swallow without gagging. Jesse (Louisa Krause) and Tosha (Sonequa Martin) are star lacrosse players at a posh D.C.-area prep school with liberally shared lip gloss and furtively wandering eyes in sweaty locker rooms, but rather than attempting a moderately incisive ode to teenage sexual identity along the lines of Show Me Love, the film digs heavy-handedly into each girl’s schismatic home life. Jesse’s the great white latchkey kid, scorning her Hispanic maid while Mommy jetsets on exotic business trips, and Tosha’s entire extended family resides in a grim ghetto apartment where they’re forced to fend off drug abuse, moody baby mamas, bitchy earring hoop-pulling street thugs, and the general irate fecklessness that characterizes the African-American cliché canon.
The film’s inability to lucidly assert even one of the rudimentary axioms of inchoate maturity—be true to thine self? Have pride in who you really are?—is far less grating than the fact that there might actually be kids who identify with the clumsy acting and facile, condescending dialogue (then again, they might recognize in director/writer/producer Emily Abt’s failed rendering of the racial/socio-economic divide a bit of their own confused, ineffectual approach to young adult life). The thought of anyone deriving hope from Tosha’s self-empowering mantra “Black Bitch” is sickening enough, but Toe to Toe resolutely fumbles in its depiction of Jesse’s descent into rich white-girl sluttishness. She unabashedly blows chauvinistic classmates in campus showers and drinks herself into wet, grinding stupors that blossom with fully consensual penetration on forest floors, all of which is made to appear attractive if irresponsible.
It’s not until the film’s final STD-tinged moments that the “awful” gravity of the behavior sinks in, culminating in an offensively purple gang-rape flashback whose succession of carnal o-faces suggests that the girl’s orifices are about as equal opportunity as the Walt Disney Corporation. In fact, the only character in the film with any shred of sexual confidence—an Indian lesbian—is, in essence, the plot’s primary antagonist, an attribute that effectively tops Toe to Toe off with the kind of weirdly outdated faux pas that seems even beneath the effort of writing a contemptuous letter to GLAAD.