2006Director: Anne Fletcher
Cast: Channing Tatum, Jenna Dewan, Rachel Griffiths
ssuming an entire subgenre of popular music couldn’t very well be mistaken, we’ll presume high school is pretty hard. Between the unrequited love affairs and those parents—those unsympathetic bastards just wanting to live out their own dreams through you—all set to a simplistic guitar refrain and warbled by kids famous for donning eccentric hairstyles, sure, high school really must be tough. But while the average Good Charlotte track might effuse that point in under five minutes, the film Step Up takes considerably longer—93 minutes longer to be exact. None of it is grueling; parts of it are downright catchy. Still, at the end of the day, all you’re left with is this: life is hard when you’re seventeen, and if you dance in jeans, do consider a belt.
Most in need of that latter life lesson is Tyler Gage (the not-as-uncharismatic-as-he-looked-in-the-trailer Channing Tatum of She’s the Man), a street kid breezing through life in negligent foster care. He gets his fun stealing cars and committing acts of petty vandalism with best pal Mac, but when they mess with the wrong ballet stage, he’s assigned 200 hours of community service at the Maryland School for the Arts. It’s here that this hoodlum from the wrong side of the tracks meets the excellently wardrobed posh princess Nora Clark (Jenna Dewan). She needs a dance partner; he doesn’t want to clean windows. Cue Ciara and the quaint inner-city stereotypes.
It’s no doubt a common trope—the collision of cultures proceeds to hybridize into something greater than its disparate parts. Step Up sees the marriage of hip-hop street style and classical dance, or “Vivaldi old school” as it’s termed by an affable MSA student (pop crooner Mario, who, surprisingly, just wants his pretty schoolmate to let him love her). Lest you miss it, the filmmakers dedicate the entire credits to precisely that juxtaposition of dance schools set to the same music. Then, of course, there’s the thematic echo of cultural fusion manifest in the relationship blossoming between Tyler and Nora. Their relationship, like every good high school romance, derives apparently from the commiseration of separate miseries. Tyler is a futureless drifter headed on a fast track to jail, while Nora is the spawn of high achieving, white, upper-middle class gentry. Rather than succumbing to her statistically mandated bulimia (really, she’s even in a dance school), Nora chooses to pout and yell. Her mother’s own dreams dictate a dire future for the pixie: get a professional dance job or marry the ogre. Sorry, go to Cornell. The film tends to view them as roughly equal punishments.
While Nora languishes, distraught over the potential obtainment of an Ivy League education, Tyler has to stay alive. The filmmakers seem at least to have read and thoroughly dog-eared that part of the moviemaker’s manual that explicates the everyday toils of various social classes. (Oh yes, there is a drive-by shooting.) What they seem to have forgotten is that chapter on how to make a well-paced movie. This one features approximately 45 minutes of story and 15 minutes of cool dance numbers (and those are, to be fair, 15 minutes very well spent). That leaves about 38 minutes of new plot elements introduced and never reexamined, of dialogue delivering in 10 sentences what could have been assumed by a four-year old. This is a film that, when a character says of music producing, “I like to play with myself,” feels the need to follow up.
Still, Step Up keeps the music pumping infectiously, and its two leads are irresistible on the dance floor, the chemistry between them electric as violins soar over a hip-hop bass. But while Tatum is serviceably morose away from the floor, Dewan’s shrill and ever-incredulous line reading, combined with an already obnoxiously written character, brings dramatic credibility crashing down around her pretty legwarmers.In Nora’s defense, I suppose there is something to be said for capricious youth and following your dreams. Indeed, if this movie could—unlike its self-martyred heroes—manage a tone devoid of such self-righteous whininess, that something might be worth hearing. As for me, I’ll stick to TRL.
Step Up is playing in theatres across the country.
By: Amanda Andrade
Published on: 2006-08-18