Director: Ian Iqbal Rashid (Touch of Pink)
Writer: Annmarie Morais
Producers: Brent Barclay, Jennifer Kawaja, Julia Sereny
Starring: Tracey Armstrong, Clé Bennett, Nina Dobrey, Romina D’Ugo, Kevin Duhaney, Shawn Fernandez, Brennan Gademans, Jason Harrow, Jai Jai Jones, Tristan D. Lalla, Daniel Morrison, Dwain Murphy, Mya, Rutina Wesley
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 93 min
I must admit, wasn’t expecting much from How She Move. It looked much like its predecessors: films full of dance numbers that try to make a meaningful statement out a half baked story. I will be the first to admit that I often make my way through these types of films, mostly because I enjoy the musical numbers, but rarely do any of them manage to be touching and even fewer have any heart. Rather surprisingly, this particular attempt is different in a number of ways: it’s Canadian, it’s low budget and it sports solid performances and dance numbers that are likely to make you go home, turn up the music and feel the beat in the pit of your stomach.
The story itself is pretty cookie cutter stuff: Raya, a young woman with a lot of promise, is forced to come home from private school when her sister dies from drug addiction. In an effort to earn enough money to return to school, Raya turns to step dancing and sets her eye on the big prize at an upcoming competition. Writer Annmarie Morais manages to avoid a few of the clichés that riddle these types of films but even the few that rear their ugly heads are minor. Sure, these kids are from a rough neighbourhood but what’s impressive is what we don’t see; there are no guns, no gang fights, no real violence – just loads of hostility taken out with dance.
The script works thanks to the performances from some immensely talented newcomers starting with Rutina Wesley in the lead role of Raya. Not only can this girl move, she can emote like nobody’s business. Her poutty look is a bit over the top at times but for the most part, she’s quite good as the bright eyed talent with a dream. Dwain Murphy holds his own as the leader of the crew but it’s two smaller, quiet performances that really stand out. Tre Armstrong who, until now, has only played small roles as a backup dancer in a few other films, has great screen presence and her controlled performance as Raya’s troubled friend never feels false. The other small yet memorable performance comes from Brennan Gademans,as Bishop’s little brother. There’s something about this kid’s charm that comes through the screen. I was happy to see Canada’s pop star Shawn Desman make an appearance but over the moon by the fact that he was completely relegated to doing what he does best: dancing. Thank you to the casting agents for having the foresight to save us from seeing a disaster unfold.
Ultimately, what makes this film work is the dance numbers. They start almost immediately and continue throughout the film, moving it, the story and characters along. They may not be as grandiose and glitzy as we’ve seen in the past but the talent is undeniable. Someone spent a whole lot of time digging up some amazingly talented dancers and that is clear from the performances. It’s also during these dance numbers where we see director Ian Iqbal Rashid’s talent. He captures the energy and movement of what’s going on beautifully, managing to put the viewer in the moment and by the time the last three crews take the stage for the final competition, you can’t help but cheer for your favourite.
How She Move is full of pleasant surprises. From the solid performances to the intoxicating and entertaining dance sequences, this little film is great fun. This is the type of movie Telefilm prays for: young, hip, widely appealing and perhaps most importantly, likely to make back its budget. Make no mistake, this is not a big Hollywood production and though it may look like one on the surface, it has clear indie sensibilities that work to its advantage.
How She Move is not Oscar material but it’s darned good entertainment and a little film that managed to make me smile, tap my feet and walk away with a light spring in my step and an urge to go dancing.