Step

stepSTARS3Director Amanda Lipitz is well aware that the city of Baltimore has an image problem. TV shows like The Wire (2002 – 2008) portray a city troubled by urban blight, underachieving public schools, drug abuse and violent crime. What happened to Freddie Gray didn’t help the city’s reputation. The black American man’s death from spinal injuries while in police custody led to protests and civil unrest. Lipitz’s film was recorded in the months following his passing in April 2015. The film acknowledges this event but then goes on to more uplifting matters.

Step would appear to be a documentary chronicling a step team’s progress toward winning a state competition.  This is probably a good point to explain the title.  Step or step dancing is a style in which the dancer’s entire body is used as a percussive instrument.  A complex set of rhythms and sounds are produced using footsteps, shouts, and hand claps. But Step is just as much a movie about a community as it is about the pupils that go to the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women.  BLSYW is a small all-girls, college preparatory, and charter high school. Anyone who believes the raising of a child requires the active involvement of the entire community in order to succeed will be heartened by this account.  These women are surrounded by a lot of encouragement in their lives. Their teachers, counselors, coaches, fellow teammates and families all seem to be there pushing the students forward.

Director Amanda Lipitz’s feature debut follows three likable seniors.  First is Cori Grainger, the senior class valedictorian and hopeful candidate for a full scholarship to Johns Hopkins University.  Then there’s Tayla Solomon, the daughter of a correctional officer who also happens to be a bit of a helicopter mom.  And last but certainly not least, the step team captain and film’s breakout star, Blessin Giraldo, whose academic struggles threaten her ability to remain on the team.  Her charismatic personality captures the viewer’s attention more than any other.  Now and again, this can feel like her story.  The three young women deal with homework, apply to various colleges and fill out financial aid forms.  The Lethal Ladies step team strives to accomplish two things: finish first in the Bowie State step championship and more importantly, get accepted into college.

That last piece is the unexpected spotlight of this presentation.  Despite the title, Step isn’t really focused on dancing at all.  It’s about things like sustaining a minimum 2.0 GPA and daily class attendance.  The extracurricular activity is merely a reward for maintaining these requirements.  A little more step dancing would’ve been nice actually.  The most electric moments occur when the girls rehearse for the climactic match.  They are extremely talented.  The culminating tournament is an exhilarating exaltation of joy that comes at the end of the production.  Would actually showing more than one full routine in its entirety be too much to ask?  Still, these seniors are driven individuals in all that they do.  They are trying to get into college and it’s that pursuit that motivates this feature.  Teamwork / sisterhood / integrity – Lipitz emphasizes these themes over and over to an audience already open to the charms of these inspirational women.

Step makes a moving documentary.  If this was a fictional story the plot would most charitably be described as predictably safe.  There are few surprises.  Step joins a lofty tradition of dramas about scrappy kids from humble beginnings that find solace in extracurricular activities.  We’ve seen movies that feature basketball, cheerleading, marching band and chess.  Those are the ones that immediately come to mind.  However, the fact that these protagonists actually exist makes the chronicle much more powerful. Amanda Lipitz’ film is polished, positive, and promising.  The developments are designed to make you feel good and it does the job.  In these stories, the plucky heroes usually overcome numerous obstacles to ultimately win the day in an electrifying final showdown to the adulation of their fans.  The idea has been tackled many times.  I’m happy to say it’s just as effective here as it has been in the past.  These girls are champions in more ways than one.

08-03-17

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8 Responses to “Step”

  1. smilingldsgirl Says:

    Glad you enjoyed it. Interesting that you found the dance preparation the most electric. For me the dance was almost irrelevant but it was the family and personal drama that was the most compelling. I found Blessin’s story with her mother’s depression to be so moving and when Corrie gets accepted it is so inspiring. Anyway, glad you enjoyed it.

    • Yeah it was nice to see an uplifting story, particularly one that centered on the city of Baltimore. For the first 5 years of my life I lived in Maryland in a suburb of Washington DC. Those cities are about 50 miles apart but I have a connection to the area.

      Interesting the director would title her documentary STEP as it implies a movie about Step dancing. But yeah the dancing was irrelevant. I really enjoyed the little they showed though.

  2. smilingldsgirl Says:

    I can’t remember if we’ve spoken about this but I grew up in Maryland also. Frederick County. I can see what you mean about the title. It was fun to see the girls perform a little at Sundance. Very talented

  3. Step sounds like a solid documentary that could have gone in a lot of different directions, so it’s probably good that it sticks to a tried and true underdog type of story. Seeing real people struggling to overcome obstacles is certainly more compelling, and in our current political climate feel-good stories like the one you describe seem more important than ever, to make sure our daily lives aren’t just doom and gloom. We need stories like this to remind us there is still goodness in the world and people worth rooting for.

    • Sound like you would enjoy it. I really thought a feel-good documentary like this would’ve found a bigger audience. I think it’s still expanding to more theaters so hopefully it’s playing near you.

  4. Very uplifting and inspirational, but I wanted more Step! The final routine was so awesome. I wish the movie had more of that 3 1/2 stars

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