I’m tempted to dismiss Step Up as a trite and predictable amalgam of every teenage dance movie ever made. The story goes something like this: Good girl meets bad boy. They dance to catchy music, fall in love, realize all of their wildest dreams, and live happily ever after. The end. I could have told you that much without even watching Step Up, but I would have been overlooking the most important thing about the movie—its positive message.
After vandalizing a theater, Tyler Gage (Channing Tatum) is sentenced to 200 hours of community service at a prestigious school for the performing arts. As he sweeps the halls and vacuums the carpets, Tyler glimpses a life he might have had. He dances as well as any of the students, but it’s something he does to pass the time, like shooting hoops or stealing cars.
There’s not a lot of room to dream when you live with apathetic foster parents on the wrong side of the tracks, but life changes for Tyler when he meets an ambitious young dancer named Nora (Jenna Dewan). She’s in desperate need of a rehearsal partner for her senior showcase, and Tyler is her last hope. He’s the only one with the strength and the moves to keep up with her, and without a solid partner, her routine is sunk.
With the permission of the school’s director (Rachel Griffiths), the two begin practicing in the afternoons. Though competent, Tyler is less than dependable. He doesn’t realize how much can be achieved through hard work and dedication, but Nora knows her future depends upon the showcase. It’s her one shot at signing with a professional dance company, and if it falls through, so do her dreams. How can someone from a world without opportunity be expected to understand?
When worlds collide, there’s bound to be conflict, but a little goes a long way in this movie. Tyler and Nora’s friends voice concerns about their partnership. Tempers are lost, dirty looks are exchanged, and we get it—people are leery of crossing the class divide. Having established that, the movie loses momentum as our protagonists try to decide whether they’re coming or going.
Tyler misses practice and Nora’s all, “This is over! I don’t trust you. Wait, where are you going? I need you!” Then Tyler’s like, “I’m not doing this! Oh, I’m sorry, let’s try again.” This goes on and on until any sense of passion is lost, but Step Up isn’t really about romance. It’s about friendship, loyalty, and, well, stepping up.
It takes a tragedy to make Tyler and his best friend see that they need to take responsibility for their dreams. They realize that success isn’t a symptom of privilege—it’s a result of being the best person you can be. Tyler’s performance in the showcase yields unexpected rewards, and he proves that it really is possible to turn adversity into opportunity. If even one young person takes this message to heart, then I have no business complaining that we’ve seen this all before.
Extra features include Deleted Scenes and Bloopers, a “Making the Moves” featurette, Music Videos by Ciara, Sean Paul, Chris Brown, and Samantha Jade, and Commentary by Channing Tatum, Jenna Dewan, and director/choreographer Anne Fletcher.