Movie review: 'How She Move' steps it up

  • Article by: COLIN COVERT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 24, 2008 - 4:55 PM

This teen soap opera teems with energy.

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In this photo provided by Paramount Vantage, Rutina Wesley as Raya stars in How She Move."

Photo: Ian Watson, Associated Press

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Any similarities between "How She Move" and other recent urban dance movies are strictly uncoincidental. The soap opera elements, teen rivalries and last-minute reconciliations are as carefully choreographed as the Soulja Boy dance. That said, this modestly budgeted Canadian production is a delight. "How She Move" was nominated for the grand jury and audience award prizes at last year's Sundance Film Festival thanks to its ingratiating sincerity, a winning cast and musical numbers that could rouse the dead. Or even the Norwegian.

Raya Green (newcomer Rutina Wesley) is a conscientious student, the focus of her hardworking Jamaican mother's immigrant ambitions. Her path to medical school detours when treatment for her drug-addict sister depletes their parents' savings and Raya is forced to drop out of private school. Returning to high school in the inner city, she confronts former friends who view her as a turncoat for leaving the old neighborhood.

The film has a fine grasp of the challenges faced by the emotionally conflicted girl. She's a brain among kids who have little use for classrooms, uncertain if she should fit in or excel. She's under surveillance from her mom, who fears she'll repeat her late sister's mistakes if she starts gyrating with dance-crazed roughnecks.

A natural, athletic dancer, Raya's an also-ran in the male-dominated world of step competitions. But unless she can break tradition and perform with a male crew, there's no way she can win the national step competition in Detroit, claim a share of the $50,000 prize, and afford private school tuition again. Raya is a rich, sympathetic character who projects self-esteem even when she's feeling insecurity. Which is understandable. Atop all her issues, Raya's uncertain if the school dance crew's leader (Dwain Murphy) admires her moves or, y'know, really likes her.

Wesley is irresistible as she stomps her way up the competitive ladder, and when she slides down a few rungs, your heart sinks with her. She's breathtaking in high-stepping duels with dancer-turned-actress Tre Armstrong, who makes a powerful impression as Raya's sneering nemesis. As with most of the characters, the bad girl evolves into something more complex as the story unfolds. All in all, a satisfying combination of drama and dance.

Colin Covert • 612-673-7186

  • HOW SHE MOVE

    ★★★ out of four stars

    The setup: An ambitious inner-city high school student (Rutina Wesley) enters dance competitions to fund her education.

    What works: Energetic choreography, engaging characters and a happy ending.

    What doesn't: I would have traded half the family drama for more dancing.

    Great scene: The stomperrific finale.

    Rating: PG-13 for some drug content, suggestive material and language.

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