Step is a documentary from first-time director Amanda Lipitz. Set in the Fall of 2015 not long after Freddie Gray’s death, the film documents the senior year of a girls’ high-school step dance team against the background of inner-city Baltimore (IMDb). Going into this movie, I didn’t know much outside of the premise and what I saw was pretty good, but not exactly what I was hoping for.
As a documentary, Step is technically exceptional for the most part. It starts with news footage regarding Gray’s shocking loss cleverly juxtaposed with scenes of the girls practicing; moreover, certain lines of dialogue from those scenes stand out because they have a deeper meaning (and that’s all I’ll say). Lipitz directs her debut feature admirably well, but it could’ve used some more visual flair; the dance scenes, especially on-stage, are an exception since they’re not only fun to watch, but Lipitz puts us in that audience’s shoes as if we’re watching it live, making them even more larger than life. Laura Karpman and Raphael Saadiq’s score is basically non-existent but at least the songs from the soundtrack fit well with the film’s supposedly sentimental tone.
Conversely, Step presents several perspectives that are generally fine. When the film is not focused on the dance team as a whole, it revolves around the personal lives of three particular members. While these stories are interesting, especially more so towards the end, they often distract from seeing the team work together to overcome prejudice and win competitions; on further inspection, the film is actually more about the latter. Step also shows the three spending time with their teachers and college advisor but it would’ve benefitted from more interviews with those people. In fact, why not show them spending more time in class outside of one or two short scenes? One of the girls has a mother who works as a correctional officer — why not show more of that?
Some of my favorite documentaries and documentary-style movies, such as The Jinx and Borat, all have a straightforward narratives while Step unfortunately doesn’t. The aforementioned moments of the three senior girls studying hard and making their parents proud pad out the 83-minute runtime to the point where the film becomes less about escaping reality through dance and more about showing that an education matters. Even if that was the filmmakers’ intentions, they should’ve done a better job communicating it to the audience. Additionally, Step would’ve made a better scripted movie because that type of story seems appropriate for one. Hopefully, a big-shot Hollywood screenwriter is currently developing that script right now. Luckily, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) parts of this film were fascinating — specifically a scene where the step team’s coach takes them to the neighborhood where Gray died and asks them where they were when it happened; however, these scenes are few and far between, which doesn’t make much sense in retrospect, since Gray is a driving force in the beginning.
Verdict: 3 out of 5
Step isn’t amazing but it’s for sure well-made. An uplifting story with plenty of heart that could’ve been tighter narratively as well as more captivating on a personal level. People who are either into step dancing or from Baltimore will surely find enjoyment in this film in theaters, while everyone else is better off waiting for cable.