Film Reviews

STEP

By • Aug 16th, 2017 •

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Its hard to criticize such an inspiring, well-intentional film.
What’s next? Senior citizens in wheelchairs across the country starting “synchronistic clapping” teams?

The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, a public charter high school, was established in 2009. It’s mission is to send every one of its low-income students to college. With the pressures and problems the girls face in their lives, the leaders and teachers of the school devote a great deal of time helping each student.

The success of the first school of its kind in Baltimore demands this goal be met. The teachers and counselors do everything they can to make sure the girls are accepted in a college. They campaign for the girls. Grants and financial aid are aggressively sought. Help is given with filling out college applications and even extends to finding the girls college jobs and housing. The counselors even tour the college campuses with the girls.

The counselors keep track of every assignment, grade, attendance, and family situation of every student. This approach should be offered to all high school students.

Blessin Giraldo started a Step group at the school seven years ago. They call themselves the “Lethal Ladies of BLSYW.” Blessin has and deserves “pride of place”. Stepping is exactly what you think it is. A group of people of all body types get together and practice stepping. It is choreographed. All you have to do is wave your arms around, wear heavy boots, yell, make faces and step up and down on a floor. Its Riverdance for the masses.

Historically, artistic disciplines were judged by this criteria: Not everyone could do it. Ballet, as an art form, is extraordinarily impossible for most people. It demands a certain body type, extreme discipline, dedication and lots of money for training. Ballet takes too much time to learn.

Scribbling has become an art form.

There was Renaissance Art and the Grandmasters of painting. Now its Damien Hirst’s spot paintings (not even done by him but his assistants) selling at auction for up to $3.4 million. And there are well over 1,000 of them!

There once was classical music. Beethoven please step aside. Rapping is talking in rhymes (or not) to “sampling”, which really means taking bits from someone else’s music and talking over it.

Sure there is more to “stepping”. There is the “making of faces”. Competitions are held and “stepping” has become wildly popular. There are championship Stepping bouts. It might even become an Olympic sport.

There is another disadvantaged, neglected group that deserves such an inclusive activity. Senior citizens in wheelchairs across the country should start “synchronistic clapping”. It would involve clapping, shouting and stomping on wheelchair foot-rests. The grand finale would be moving their wheelchairs left and right in unison. Families would come out in droves to cheer on grandma.

“Stepping” demands a lot of practice and does keep participants away from the drugs, crime, and violence offered to Baltimore’s youth.

To be fair, Blessin is the break-out star of STEP. It is also her audition tape. She even showcases her singing. Blessin is the dynamic center of STEP and the amount of screen time the director, Amanda Lipitz, gives her allows for the display of a range of emotions – sadness, tears, joy, determination, anxiety, and depression. She has a Broadway actor’s panoply of facial expressions.

I started to count her wigs and in every scene she is in, she has a different, complicated hairstyle. Blessin does not appear on camera twice in the same wig. She must have a great relationship with a wig shop but it is distracting – this is about disadvantaged, low-income, single parent students.

Blessin is also STEP’S main plot point. Will her grades improve? Will she make it to college? As captain of the Lethal Ladies, will she take her team to victory in the upcoming championship Step competition?

A definitive, positive message documentary by Lipitz, it is indeed inspiring. How can anyone criticize its good intentions?

Lipitz takes us inside some of the girls’ home lives. While Blessin’s mother fails too show up for a mother-daughter college application meeting, we never quite see why Blessin often whispers that she needs to leave home. There is a piece missing. With failing grades, probably due to the amount of time spent on the acquisition of wigs and hair styling, her school counselor must find a way for Blessin to succeed. She must be placed somewhere out of Baltimore.

Among the other students featured is Cori Grainger. Cori works hard and is a straight-A student. She will make it to college but her first choice is Johns Hopkins University – a $40,000 per years university. Even a full scholarship does not provide for housing, a job, books and everything else a student needs. Her counselor must find a way to make everything fall into place for Cori.

Another stand-out is not a student, but the mother of a student.
Tayla Solomon’s mother, a corrections officer, is an amusing piece of work. She has been to every rehearsal and knows the entire routine. If one of the girls falls out – after being tripped at the top of a staircase – Mom can fill in.

At a mere 83 minutes, the director is able to delve into the often delicate mother-daughter relationships. These students have been handpicked for The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women. It would be interesting to learn the process for admission and perhaps a follow-up on their college careers.

Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/.
Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at victoria.alexander.lv@gmail.com.

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