The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, August 14, 2006

Step Up (2006)

IA few days ago I asked if anyone had seen “Step Up,” the new movie in the “Save the Last Dance” mold of combining dance and romance with a hip-hop flava.  My theory was that “Step Up,” which had a white lead, would have more sex than “Dance.”

I was wrong.  I will also say that I actually liked the movie more than I thought, and possibly more than I should.  This tale of a white guy who hangs out exclusively with The Brothers is a rather obvious Tarzan riff (including a rather blatant Sacrificial Negro), but somehow they skated being offensive…probably because they added a “B” story dealing with a romance between two black students.  I gritted my teeth at several scenes (notably, a scene in which the lead character Tyler Gage (a dynamic Channing Tatum), dreams of getting out of the ‘hood as he rides a bus.  The camera shows us an expance of poor black people.  Now, were he black, the issue would be one of class and economics.  But because he is white—you gotta remember that in film, visual images trump all else.  The unfortunate message is that he’s trying to get away from black people.  Ugh.

But as they tell this tale of a loser who trashes the auditorium of a school for the arts, is caught, and ends up doing community service…and learns to exploit his actually quite fine dance moves, and to dream of making a better life…my heart opened.

As his delicate and tentative romance with a prospective dance partner Nora (Jenna Dewan) blossoms, I felt it.  Let’s get this straight: the acting ain’t great.  But the dance numbers, as in old MGM musicals, carry the emotional through-line, and I FELT IT. The director wisely cast performers who could actually dance, and filmed them so that you could really see what they were doing, thank God.

And there was one scene at a party when all the main characters get a chance to sing, or dance, or DJ, simultaneously, and the energy was wonderful.  And another scene at the end where it all comes together, where I felt like I was watching the wonderful movie Fame all over again, and my eyes were getting moist.

Because I remember what it was like to want something so badly that I thought I’d die.  When I was willing to do ANYTHING to have a career expressing myself, when my dreams first seemed within reach, when I first felt hope, an explosion of joy and possibility.  And when I see a movie that depicts young people taking their first step along that road…it does me.  It really does.

And the filmmakers managed to use clichés without making me hate them for it.  The film is crude, derivative, and flirts with stereotypes…but I think it works.  And I am willing to give it mad props for actually trying, actually caring.  STEP UP is no classic, but it was a perfectly fine way to spend two hours on a Sunday afternoon with my daughter.  I left the theater a happier person than I was when I entered.  What more can I ask?

A solid “B” for those who love dance, or believe in dreams.

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