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How She Move
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Stomps "Stomp the Yard"
4 stars

“How She Move” is another one of those movies in which a fresh-faced teen discovers that there is no hardship or adversity in the world that cannot be overcome by winning a conveniently scheduled dance contest. As you can probably guess, it isn’t exactly overflowing with originality but as it went on, I was surprised to discover that the filmmakers actually had the decency to throw a couple of curveballs into the otherwise predictable storyline and handled the rest with enough energy and enthusiasm to keep it moving along.

As the film opens, Raya (Rutina Wesley) is forced to leave her the private school that she has been attending and return to her home in a run-down Toronto housing project when her Jamaican immigrant parents can no longer afford the tuition in the wake of the drug-related death of her older sister. The smart and ambitious Raya is deeply unhappy with having to return to the old neighborhood–especially now that many of her former friends, such as Michelle (Tre Armstrong), seem to resent her for believing herself to be better than they are even as they seem about to head down the same path that already claimed her sister–and tries to find a way to earn a scholarship that will allow her to get back to the plans that she had made for herself. Unfortunately for her, the pressures of adjusting to a new school and dealing with both her sister’s death and the inability of her parents to deal with th tragedy prove to be too much and when it comes time for the big test that will determine whether she gets the scholarship or not, she chokes and is convinced that she has blown her one and only chance.

Of course, there are always second chances in films like this and here, it takes the form of the world of step-dancing. A strong dancer in her own right, Raya learns of an upcoming competition with a cash prize that will fund her scholastic dreams. Although it is Michelle who informs Raya of this in the hopes that she will join her crew (after the requisite fights and nastiness, the two become friendlier when Raya convinces Michelle’s mother not to throw her out), Raya goes behind her back–she realizes that an all-female crew has no chance of winning in a serious competition–and instead tries to join the group led by childhood friend Bishop (Dwain Murphy). The other members are unsure–they fear that judges will only seem a mixed-gender team as a novelty–but Raya proves that she has the moves and the determination and when one member quits the group over differences with Bishop, Raya is allowed to join. Their first performance, however, is a disaster when Michelle’s group goes on first with a routine consisting of moves stolen from Bishop’s and when Raya busts a few impromptu moves (as the kids say) in an effort to salvage their effort, Bishop accuses her of only thinking of herself and she leaves the team to join up with a crew that are slick and fairly evil but who are also the reigning champions and favored to win the upcoming contest.

I wouldn’t dream of revealing the results of that contest or any of the other questions surrounding it, such as whether Raya and Bishop will make up, whether Raya gets into the school of her dreams or what will happen when her now-overprotective mother discovers what she has been doing and shows up at the dance contest just before she is to go on and demands that she leave right them because she fears that she will wind up like her sister. My guess is that if you have seen even one film of this type that has come out in recent years–“Save the Last Dance,” “You Got Served,” “Step Up,” “Take the Lead” or “Stomp the Yard” immediately leap to mind–you can probably figure out the answers for yourself. What is interesting about the film, however, is that while the destination it arrives at may be familiar enough, the path that it takes along the way offers up some unexpected detours. For starters, the milieu is somewhat unusual–most films of this type are set in anonymous neighborhoods populated with anonymous people but through locating his tale within Toronto’s Jamaican community, director Ian Iqbal Rashid gives the story a real sense of place that is usually lacking in films of this type. Another intriguing aspect, though one that may be disconcerting to some viewers, is the fact that its heroine is not the most likable and sympathetic person. Her desperation to get out of the circumstances that have already destroyed her family lead her to mistreat some people in her desire to get what she wants and while Annmarie Morais’ screenplay does sympathize with her, it does not simply let her off the hook and she is made to realize the hurt that she has caused in the name of her self-interest–while she doesn’t turn into a monster or anything like that, this development does add some much-needed edge to both the film in general and the character in particular.

The other aspect of “How She Move” that is unusually effective is the dancing. This may sound like a rather silly statement to make since the dancing is usually the only thing in this type of movie that is at all memorable. However, the problem with a lot of these films is that the dance sequences have been so tricked-out with fancy camera moves, rapid-fire editing and obvious doubles that the whole thing becomes as unrealistic and soulless to behold as the battle scenes from “Transformers.” By comparison, the dance scenes on display here are filmed in a stripped-down and straightforward manner that allows us to see that not only are the actual actors doing the moves but that they are pretty damn good–although I can’t say that I am an expert in any way in regards to the intricacies of step-dancing, I can say that I responded far more to the obvious intensity and energy of the dance numbers presented here than I did with the antiseptically conceived production numbers seen in the likes of “Stomp the Yard.” The only time that the staging goes a little too far over the top comes during the big dance number at the end (which I understand was reshot after the film was picked up for distribution at last year’s Sundance Film Festival and more money was poured into making it ready for theatrical release) and even though it is easily the slickest moment on display (especially in regards to the various props that are deployed), even this scene doesn’t wind up totally relying on post-production fiddling to make its impact.

It is a funny thing about movie cliches–if a film is bad and filled with them, such as the dreadful “Untraceable,” the whole enterprise feels tired and lazy but if the film is good and those familiar elements have been handled with the right amount of energy and enthusiasm, as they have in “How She Move,” they can actually feel somewhat fresh and entertaining against all odds. It isn’t a masterpiece by any means and I can’t actually say that I will ever sit through it again in my lifetime but I must confess that I found myself getting far more engrossed by the film than I could have possibly expected to be when I sat down to watch it.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15701&reviewer=389
originally posted: 01/25/08 00:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2007 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/09/09 Shaun Wallner Very Interesting 4 stars
9/10/08 Mabel I like this movi e but the most I like is the step 4 stars
7/12/08 sweetgrrl1972 Super movie! The actors were totally authentic. 4 stars
1/23/07 Josh Blakeman Great film! leads were great & supporting actors were great too- notably Tristan D. Lalla. 5 stars
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  25-Jan-2008 (PG-13)
  DVD: 29-Apr-2008


  10-Apr-2008 (M)

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