Quantcast
please donate

since 1997 | by maryann johanson

Step documentary review: dance into the future

Step green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
Covers ground — the lives of black teen girls — that mostly goes unexamined onscreen. It couldn’t be fresher or more important. It’s also wildly entertaining.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): I’m desperate for movies about girls and women
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Forget those silly Step Up movies. Even though they are set in the world of hip-hop street-dance competitions that are primarily an “urban” — read: black — phenomenon, they manage to focus almost entirely on white characters. Instead, here’s Step, which is literally the real thing. Hugely cheering and cheer-worthy, this documentary look at a high-school girls’ step team covers so much ground that unforgivably goes mostly unexamined onscreen: it couldn’t be fresher or more important. It’s also wildly entertainingtweet while simultaneously enormously enlightening.

Movies about at-risk boys are plentiful. Movies about at-risk girls are so rare as to be almost nonexistent.
tweet

For starters: Movies, both fictional and factual, about at-risk boys are plentiful. Movies about at-risk girls are so rare as to be almost nonexistent. (The British film Urban Hymn is another recent one. It’s a completely mainstream crowd-pleaser. It was released on one screen in its own home country! That’s criminal.) In Step, filmmaker Amanda Lipitz, making her documentary debut, went to Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, a new experimental charter school designed to support inner-city girls and get them into college; she followed the first class during its senior year. These are the most experimental students of the experiment, the very first to go through the school’s program.

While the city explodes around them with protests over the killing of Freddie Gray while he was in police custody, the ongoing challenges of the girls’ lives, such as poverty and tough situations at home, are everpresent. But step is an escape for these girls: “step is life,” one says with not a hint of irony or exaggeration. From shy Cori Grainger (pictured above, left) — who is “kind of an introvert” and was once homeless, but has a mom who is “a magic wand in human form” — to Blessin Giraldo (pictured above, right) — the team’s “visionary” choreographer whose difficult family adds extra burdens to her challenges — it is inspiring and illuminatingtweet to see such a wide range of young black girls, each with their own problems and talents, onscreen. We simply never see this!

You will never be as cool or as badass as these girls. Sorry.

You will never be as cool or as badass as these girls. Sorry.tweet

There’s less dancing here than you might expect, even as Step indulges a familiar story about the team’s disappointing previous year of competition — they didn’t win anything! — and a major contest coming up, one that no team from Baltimore has ever won. Can they pull it off? (When they do dance, though: Whoa. Their routines are politically aware, and one includes a “hands up, don’t shoot” movement. It’s chillingly powerful.) The more important focus is on all the usual triumphs and disappointments of adolescence — struggling with self-confidence, for instance, or trying to figure out how to pay for college — that are compounded by the enormous stresses they face on the basic level of day-to-day life. (The fridge in Blessin’s home sometimes has no food in it.) The positivity and optimism they mostly maintain in the face of it all is beyond electrifying: it’s almost miraculous.tweet And though the girls’ outcomes by the end of the school year cover a wide variety of potentialities, there is one thing that is undeniable: Step reminds us that investing resources — not just money but also time and attention and expectations — in kids, in girls, in black girls, works. We need to be better at doing that, but we also need to be better at letting more girls see stories that reflect the realities of their lives.


green light 4 stars

FlickFilosopher.com is wholly supported by readers. Please make a one-time donation (PayPal account NOT required) -- even $1 helps -- or set up a recurring subscription (PayPal account required).

Like what you’re reading? Sign up for the daily digest email and get links to all the day’s new reviews and other posts.

Step (2017) | directed by Amanda Lipitz
US/Can release: Aug 04 2017
UK/Ire release: Aug 11 2017

MPAA: rated PG for thematic elements and some language
BBFC: rated PG (mild bad language, sex references, violence)

viewed on my iPad

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Aaron Jones

    Your voice is so valuable in the world of film analysis and criticism. I am very thankful for it and for this review.

  • Dale Snow

    Thanks for this! Happy to report from Baltimore that it is playing on more than one screen here.

  • Thank you!

Pin It on Pinterest