A graduate of the Sundance Film Festival class of 2007, "How She Move" arrives on DVD dragging behind a slew of urban dance productions. However, "Move" has heart, respect, and some incredible acting newcomers, making it late to the party, but ending up the best feet-first creation yet.
Finding her pathway to medical school obstructed by financial difficulties, a smothering mother, and trouble with her peers, Raya (Rutina Wesley) struggles to live life her way. When the world of step-dancing comes calling with offers of cash prizes and social acceptance, Raya jumps at the chance to join the local underdog group. Finding herself emotionally drawn to the squad's captain (Dwain Murphy), Raya risks losing the way to her goals, only to find these aspirations might not be what she wants for herself after all.
Imagine "Stomp the Yard" with a budget of $1.25, a higher IQ, and some visual restraint, and there's "How She Move." Perhaps it's unfair to match the two movies together, since both features were created under such different circumstances, yet both offer the audience a chance to watch step-dancing at its most theatrical; a quality that makes the pictures interchangeable at times.
Where "Move" excels is in the characterization. Screenwriter Annmarie Morais has a sincere love for her screen personalities, and she refuses to let them slide on pure cynicism or screenwriting conceits. It's unusual for a teen-centric film to feature such attention to behavior, but the screenplay, while hardly an oasis of originality, is nonetheless interested in emotional dimension and moments of fallibility. It also helps that the picture is founded on goals of education and self-worth, not thuggery. Morais's attempt to drag some of the latter element into the picture to act as a setback for Raya comes across ridiculous and aggressively formulaic.
There's a real star on the horizon with young Wesley, who delivers a turbulent performance as Raya. Making her motion picture debut, she already possesses a healthy dose of big screen poise, not to mention excellent dance moves to match the rest of the professionals flopping around this film. Wesley is the heart and soul of "Move," making the undesirable components of the movie (horrible lighting, aforementioned goofball thug villain, and director Ian Iqbal Rashid's inability to make his locations reverb with some sense of life) less irritating. She's one to watch.
Shot with low-budget production values and a desaturated color palette, "How She Move" won't become a demo title for your collection, yet the anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1 aspect ratio) presentation is a commendable effort, protecting the intended feeling of isolation without much in the way of digital interference.
The stomping foot action comes alive during the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix, making for a forcible listening experience when the action steps away from conversation and hits the dance floor. Dialogue is clear and separated well from soundtrack cuts, but the excitement of the mix comes with the dance sequences. A Spanish-language track is also included.
English and Spanish subtitles are provided.
"The Characters of 'How She Move'" (13 minutes) introduces us to the horde of young actors, and most are eager to please with their camera-ready charms. To keep matters interesting, the talent is asked to reveal their private character backstory to the viewer.
"From Rehearsal to Film" (9 minutes) supplies a peek at the strenuous practice schedule forced upon the cast. Under the tutelage of choreographer Hi Hat, the actors spent weeks working out dance routines of the film, turning their brains and bodies into pudding. It's an informative featurette.
"Telling Her Story" (10 minutes) reveals the film started life as a documentary, soon transformed into a low-budget Canadian production. Avoiding typical EPK nonsense, the featurette delves into production challenges, traces the history of step-dancing, and underlines the film's drive toward intelligence.
A Theatrical Trailer is included, along with looks at "Cloverfield," "Blackout," "Norbit," "The Duchess," "Defiance," and "Son of Rambow."
Obviously a huge step-dance showdown (the "Step Monster") closes the film, and while the moves are familiar, the energy is enthusiastically maintained by Rashid, who prudently keeps the ending short and sweet. "How She Move" isn't revolutionary material, but it's presented with a little more effort than what audiences are accustomed to, at seemingly 1/100th the budget. The effort is appreciated.