‘STEP’ Review: Emotional Storytelling Overpowers Its Flaws

step documentary

Fox Searchlight

In documentary STEP, we follow the step dance team at a Baltimore all girls high school. For those who don’t know, stepping is a type of competitive dance that involves making music through the sounds of footsteps, clapping, and various other dance moves. The school is in a lower class part of the city, and the girls on the team, unfortunately, come home some nights to empty refrigerators and non-functioning electricity. The documentary crew, the girls’ teammates, as well as their families, show us through the course of the film how step makes their lives better, all leading up to a final competitive performance that will make or break them.

It is quite difficult to critique documentaries from the perspective of the story – the characters exist in real life, and their problems are real. Thankfully, STEP easily avoids the obstacles that are put towards it, making for a truly captivating and interesting story, with a heart of gold and a true sense of inspiration. Right from the beginning of the film, we are sucked into the world of step, and with it being such a unique art form, we really get a sense for why these girls surround their lives around the activity.

The film is not only about stepping itself, but we do get a look into the lives of these girls outside practice, truly allowing us to get with the fact that their lives revolve around step. We see one character who isn’t necessarily a star student, and how step motivates her to improve her academics. We see one character who is one of many children in her household, and with the fact that she is part of a less fortunate family, we see how step allows her to forget that she has to occasionally go to bed hungry. These side stories truly elevate the film, as we are even more captivated by their love for the dance, and it gives the film quite the inspirational quality, and brings the strong message of how we use our passions as an escape from the problems in our lives.

Again, the film is presenting non-fiction, so this may not be considered a valid criticism, but the film is quite repetitive and predictable. The characters rarely refrain from bringing up how their upcoming competition is so meaningful, and it makes audiences know what the outcome will be. Additionally, the story often loses focus from the main subplots, going into unnecessarily personal parts of the characters lives, that we don’t really need to see, and don’t really modify the impact of the plot.

Within the first few minutes of STEP, we already know how it’s going to end, and it often feels overly dramatic. However, the emotional impact, beautiful messages and the overall optimistic atmosphere that the film presents overpowers these slight issues, and make it one of the year’s most empowering stories.

Rating: 7.5/10

STEP opens in Toronto on August 11 and additional cities on August 18, 2017

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