‘Step’ is the feel-good sleeper of the summer


The movies have given us lots of reasons to feel exhilarated this summer, from the pop-feminist stylings of Gal Gadot in “Wonder Woman” to the goofy ensemble kick-in-the-pants that is “Girls Trip.” And now we have “Step,” a soaring, heart-bursting portrait of a group of intrepid Baltimore high school students guaranteed to bring audiences to their feet — whether out of vicarious triumph, overpowering pure emotion, or simply to pay tribute to the superheroines at the core of its infectiously inspiring story.

When filmmaker Amanda Lipitz began following the story in 2009, her intention was to record the first year of the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, an all-female charter school Lipitz had helped found. When a sixth-grader named Blessin Giraldo started a step dancing team, Lipitz — a theater producer with such shows as “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and “Legally Blonde” to her credit — immediately saw the cinematic potential.

“Step,” Lipitz’s impressive feature documentary debut, follows Blessin and two fellow students, Cori Grainger and Tayla Solomon, as high school seniors, during a year spent navigating schoolwork, college applications, financial aid forms and an upcoming step championship that the BLSYW team, called the Lethal Ladies of Baltimore, has yet to win.

We’ve seen this movie before: the scrappy underdogs who overcome obstacles to win the day in the course of a nail-biting final game/performance/showdown. But “Step” takes those familiar elements to new, urgently timely places, as these intrepid young women confront deeply personal issues rooted in the history and present-day anxieties of their hometown.

Filmed in 2015, at the depths of heartbreak surrounding the death of Freddie Gray, “Step” doesn’t dwell on the outside forces conditioning the experience of its tough but fragile young subjects, but neither does it ignore them. All three young women embody the kind of grit and self-confidence that are now believed to be key factors in future success. Still, the film manages to question, albeit tacitly, the indifferent or even hostile social structures that surround them as they continually fight for their own dreams.

Lipitz couldn’t have found more vivid or sympathetic protagonists for “Step,” in which the shy Tayla confidently announces that her dance skills are just a notch down from Beyoncé’s and in which Cori calls her indefatigably supportive mother “a magic wand in human form.” Cori, part of a big blended family of limited means, is the valedictorian of her class, with her eye on Johns Hopkins University, if she can pull together the $50,000 tuition.

Tayla, the daughter of a ferociously protective single mother named Maisha, is on a quietly reassuring track until a boyfriend arrives on the scene. Blessin, whose mother manages mental-health cases, is at the most risk, her falling grades prompting more than one come-to-Jesus meeting with BLSYW’s college counselor, Paula Dofat.

Dofat and step coach Gari McIntyre represent a caring, often funny Greek chorus throughout “Step,” which gracefully balances scenes of sometimes fraught home life, tearful personal reflection and tense college-prep meetings with exuberant practice sessions of the aggressive, foot-stomping dance style of its title. No spoilers here, but this movie fires on every cylinder, investing viewers in personal stories that couldn’t have higher stakes and inviting them on a journey that pays off in ways expected and utterly surprising.

‘STEP’

Grade: A

Starring: Paula Dofat, Blessin Giraldo, Cori Grainger

Rating: PG for some mature thematic elements and obscenity

Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes

Theaters: Alamo South, Arbor



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Movies & TV

Carrie Fisher's gross but supremely satisfying warning to a Hollywood sexual harasser
Carrie Fisher's gross but supremely satisfying warning to a Hollywood sexual harasser

In the wake of Hollywood's Harvey Weinstein scandal, countless women across the world have stepped forward to share their stories of sexual abuse and harassment. Heather Ross, also known as Heather Robinson, is a television and movie industry vet who recently told a morning radio show in Tucson, Arizona, about an ugly run-in she had with an overly...
The secret sauce to Fischer & Wieser’s success? Family and new flavors
The secret sauce to Fischer & Wieser’s success? Family and new flavors

No jam, jelly or savory sauce is too weird for Fischer & Wieser’s product development team to try out. Weird is what won them the country’s biggest specialty food award in 1997. That’s the year the Fredericksburg-based food manufacturer became nationally known for its roasted raspberry chipotle sauce, a smoky-sweet sauce that became...
Our restaurant critic named this one of Austin’s best pizza joints. And now it’s serving brunch
Our restaurant critic named this one of Austin’s best pizza joints. And now it’s serving brunch

Guess who finally showed up for brunch. Popular Detroit-style pizza joint Via 313 will begin serving brunch on Oct. 22, Eater Austin reports. The service will be limited to the restaurant’s Rainey Street trailer from noon to 3 p.m. on Sundays, but it sounds like it’ll be worth it.  The brunch will feature three special breakfast...
Bill Murray helps couple make big announcement
Bill Murray helps couple make big announcement

Bill Murray can, and will, do almost anything. He’s crashed bachelor parties, appeared in engagement photos and sets his own schedule when it comes to interviews and projects. But recently he helped a couple make one of the biggest announcements of their lives. And it happened during a Chicago Cubs playoff game. >> Read more...
Cookie Monster has a new job: Food truck owner, chef
Cookie Monster has a new job: Food truck owner, chef

The next season of “Sesame Street” begins Nov. 11 on HBO, followed by a spring debut on PBS. What’s new for the season? Definitely more kindness episodes, more episodes talking about differences and recognizing that people can be different because of race, ethnicity, economics, abilities and more. Last season, “Sesame Street&rdquo...
More Stories