Time constraints caused by schedule overlap kept me from seeing all of Amanda Lipitz‘s STEP last night (I caught 55 minutes’ worth), but I saw enough to absorb the basic scheme and appreciate that despite a slightly raggedy approach it’s a spunky, engaging, “we’re black and proud and headed for college if we can earn good enough grades and somehow manage the financial aspect” thing. It’s about hard work, high hopes, heart, family, ups and downs, etc.
We’re all familiar with docs and narratives about high-school strivers. The best of them are rough and real but also comforting and inspiring. We can do this if we really believe in ourselves and work our asses off and if fate or God smile, etc. STEP feels like one of the better ones. It ends, of course, with a competitive performance finale, the outcome of which gives you a nice “fuck yeah!” feeling. (Or so I was told by a guy who saw the whole thing.)
Shot in late 2015 (or a few months after the Baltimore unrest sparked by the death of Freddie Gray), the doc focuses on three senior girls at the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women who are members of the stepdance team, and are known as the “Lethal Ladies of BLSYW.”
The most magnetic of the three is Blessin Giraldo, a spirited looker who’s looking to attend college away from Baltimore, where she’s seen some tough times both at home (her mother suffers from depression) and elsewhere, except she’s having scholastic difficulties and is therefore putting her future in some jeopardy.
The second most interesting is the brilliant Cori Grainger, a shy, cautious type hoping to attend Johns Hopkins University on a full scholarship. Bringing up the rear is Tayla Solomon, whose single mom is a corrections officer. Like Blessin, Tayla also isn’t earning high-enough grades, at least at one point in the saga.
I was thrown at first by Blessin’s changing hair styles — long and ironed, short and natural, long again — but then I realized she and some of her friends are heavily into wigs and hair extensions and whatnot. I was asking a guy who was sitting next to me, “What’s up with her hair…?” And then after 30 or 35 minutes Lipitz finally shows Blessin and friends visiting a wig shop. What do I know about this stuff? I’m a white columnist from West Hollywood who worries about good wifi. I’ve had slight hair issues, okay, but…okay, not going there.
The doc also skimps on reasons why Blessin and Tayla are having problems with their grades. Is it because they’re into partying or ambivalent about leaving home due to boyfriends or family issues or what? You start to get the idea that Lipitz is avoiding any aspects of her subjects’ lives that might seem even a little downish or despondent — the idea is to keep things positive and hopeful.
I’m looking forward to seeing STEP in its entirety. It has feeling, current…I felt the stories and the struggles. It’s infectious. It’ll almost certainly sell tickets and will, if Fox Searchlight releases it in the fall, most likely win awards or at least nominations for same.