Update: Whoops! I originally posted that Raya Green was played by Vanessa Oryema. I was wrong - she’s played by Rutina Wesley. Sorry!
Ok, I’ll admit it, I kind of have a teen dance movie problem. One of my favourite movies of last year was Stomp the Yard (I will make an honest case for why I truly believe it is a passionate appeal for gender and racial equality! Also it is full of hot babes).
But while I understand why some might not quite agree that Stick It is among one of the most rousing and anti-establishment pieces of cinema of the early ‘00s, with ZERO guilty pleasure quotient I highly, heartily recommend How She Move.
In a word, what distinguishes How She Move from all the other teen dance movies that I hold dear to my heart, is how Real it is. And Realness is pretty unusual for a genre that can rarely hold itself back when it comes to fulfilling stereotypes about poor neighbourhoods, teenagers, men and women and physically impossible dance sequences.
Both the female and male characters span a broad spectrum of personalities, instead of falling into socially sanctioned roles of what it means to be a man or a woman. Or when they do fall into those roles, the motivations and reasons for why they choose to follow that path is clear - demonstrating (intentionally or not) that gender is learned rather than biological. That’s a pretty hefty topic for a movie featuring Keyshia Cole in a cameo.
More than that, How She Move features Toronto neighbourhood Jane Finch in all its gritty glory (And yes, the story is actually set in Jane Finch - not Bed Stuy or 8 Mile. Whoohoo Canada!). Unlike other CanCon which tends to try and portray Toronto as a “world-class city” the film is honest about both the city’s crappiness and potential. Which if you think about it, is more patriotic and loving to Toronto than trying to pretend that Toronto is New York City - despite the fact that the dialogue does still take potshots at poor old Scarborough.
And if that’s not enough, here’s another great thing about How She Move: Rutina Wesley, who plays lead character Raya, just looks like a regular cute teenage girl, instead of a Pussycat Doll. EXTREMELY unusual for a teen dance movie. And Wesley plays Raya as a woman on her own terms, who has an extremely clear sense of what she wants, and is affected but not swayed by the heavy expectations that our culture has of women. And darn it, call me sucker but if that ain’t inspirational I don’t know what is.
Oh, and of course, the dance moves and convoluted plot will knock your socks off. But you already knew that. We are, after all, talking about a teen dance movie. Anyways, must dash, have to go get in line for advance tickets to Step Up 2: The Streets.
PS A Film Friday on a Monday? What will this crazy website think of next?