How She Stepped Up, Stomped the Yard, and Got Served 2 / Dustin Rowles
Film Reviews | January 31, 2008 | Comments ()
A film about a disadvantaged teen who rises from poverty and achieves her dream through dance, How She Stepped Up, Stomped the Yard, and Got Served 2 doesn’t bring anything new to the urban dance genre, but by mixing eye-popping dance moves with a familiar formula, it achieves a measure of success.
How She Stepped Up, Stomped the Yard, and Got Served 2 follows Raya (Rutina Wesley), a bright girl with a criminal past from Chicago, who is forced to cope with the sudden and tragic death of her brother from drug addiction. Saddled with guilt because her brother was on his way to one of her dance competitions when he overdosed and was killed by a gang member, Raya’s problems are further complicated because her Caribbean parents can no longer afford tuition at Truth University. She is thus forced to return to Baltimore and live with foster parents in a ghetto apartment. Returning to the inner-city for the first time in years, now as a white girl, she’s immediately seen as an uppity outcast by her peers, who view her suspiciously. Troubled and alienated from her old friends, Raya breaks into the Maryland School of Arts and is arrested and sentenced to community service — the judge forces her to tutor the one girl she hates the most: Her ex-boyfriend’s (Columbus Short) current girlfriend, Nicky (Julia Stiles), a ballet dancer from the wrong side of the tracks.
In a stroke of good luck, while she’s serving out her community service hours, Raya’s interest in dance is rekindled. She wants more than anything to escape poverty, attend a private all-black school, and open a recording studio, and she feels that dance is her ticket out of the slums. She decides to follow that dream by joining a co-ed fraternity, which courts Raya because of her uncontrolled, frenetic street moves. With the fraternity, she enters a dance competition; the grand prize of $50,000 is enough to attend that prestigious university, open up a recording studio, and pay off the gambling debts of her troubled but talented boyfriend, Derek (Sean Patrick Thomas). But, more importantly, she enters the step/ballet/stomp competition to beat her arch-nemesis, redeem her second chance at life, win the respect of her peers, and step up to a life larger than she ever expected.
Complications arise, of course; she is suspended from school after her boyfriend’s father, who is the dean, discovers that he’s dating a black girl. Moreover, her disapproving parents, who have struggled through 16-hour workdays to put Raya through school, think she’s tossing her future ballet career away by hanging out with “thugs,” who they feel are keeping her from achieving her true potential.
Inspirational plot aside, How She Stepped Up, Stomped the Yard, and Got Served 2 is really about the dance rehearsals and, ultimately, the stomp competition. Her step team incorporates the ballet she picked up off the street, those disapproving parents are won over by her beautiful stomping, and her dead sibling is ultimately honored by her hard work and determination. More importantly, the choreography is stunning — the performances are lively, energetic, and visually impressive. And the final competition, involving army fatigues, ballet-stomp, pouring rain, and a Busta Rhymes/ “Swan Lake” remix will blow your mind.
But, as far as urban dance movies go, what can I say: If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. But, if you’re into electrifying dance moves, bodies that writhe and bend like sweaty, quadruple-jointed contortionists, and percussion-heavy hip hop music, you can hardly go wrong with How She Stepped Up, Stomped the Yard, and Got Served 2.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife and son in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.