“How She Move” is a girl-meets-stomp story that dazzles as a dance showcase, stumbles as an urban melodrama, and serves up enough agreeably natural current among its dynamic young protagonists to emerge above the middling mark.
The latest release representing the mini-mini-genre that has given us dance-as-transformation fare as diverse as “Saturday Night Fever,” “Shall We Dance” and last year’s step-dance-themed “Stomp the Yard,” the film adds more “step,” plus grit and Canada, to the picture. Director Ian Iqbal Rashid (“Touch of Pink”) supplies style and energy. All the movie needs is a fresh story.
Raya (Rutina Wesley), a studious Toronto teen, is forced to leave her high-achieving private school and return to her crime-plagued old hood after the drug-related death of her sister makes it impossible for her working-class parents (Melanie Nicholls-King, Conrad Coates) to pay her tuition. Viewed as a stuck-up preppie, Raya tries to assimilate by joining the step-dance crowd. The response proves uneven: Tough girl Michelle (Tre Armstrong) becomes Raya’s rival. Love interest Bishop (Dwain Murphy) admires Raya’s “serious step” and puts Raya on his all-male dance team.
Raya’s goal: to receive her share of a $50,000 dance-contest prize and use it as her ticket to medical school. Her shakiness as a team player nearly dooms those ambitions.
Visually, Rashid creates a stylishly low-budget, gritty-chic look. Tonally, he presents his characters’ interactions with engaging naturalism. Whether Bishop’s team is rehearsing atop a car or Raya and Michelle are getting sisterly, something genuine and vital is happening.
The dancing adds superb juice. As the characters display their moves, a solid picture of the specifics of “step” surfaces. The flashy, costumed numbers, choreographed by Hi Hat, are enjoyable and vibrant.
Unfortunately, however, there’s not much of a story here. Annmarie Morais’ refreshingly girl-focused but sadly cliched screenplay subjects Raya and company to so many contrivances as they stomp and slap their way to glory that you can’t feel invested in their situation or their transformation. The most interesting characters — Raya’s Jamaican immigrant parents — get frustratingly little screen time.
How She Move
Starring Rutina Wesley, Tre Armstrong, Dwain Murphy and Melanie Nicholls-King
Written by Annmarie Morais
Directed by Ian Iqbal Rashid
Running time 1 hour 38 minutes