The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women was founded in 2009 to help underserved girls, predominately African-Americans, prepare for college. As this public charter school geared up to graduate its first class last year, the filmmakers of “Step” were there to observe three seniors, all members of its step dance team.
Cori, the valedictorian, says is hoping to receive a “full ride” to Johns Hopkins University. She’s the oldest of six children, and while her home life is anchored by a loving and supportive mother and stepfather, money is always tight. That’s also the case for Blessin, a hair and makeup maven — she seems to have a different hair style in every other shot. Blessin has trouble maintaining her grades, however, and in getting her mother, who suffers from depression, from partaking fully in weighing her post-high-school options. Tayla also has wobbly grades, and her mother, a police officer, sometimes embarrasses her because of her enthusiasm for the step team.
This documentary has a classic twinned narrative: The girls must get into college (that’s the school’s main goal), and there’s a big step competition coming up. “Step” manages to tell both stories in under 90 minutes, with a city rived by the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody as its fraught backdrop. The film uses such crowd-pleasing devices as scoring a “Rocky”-training-style montage to Fifth Harmony’s “Worth It.” The action in this sequence is mostly Cori, Blessin and Tayla filling out application forms on computers, but one has to work with what one has.
In trying to deliver messages of inspiration and…