Feelgood Friday Film Club: Step Up
- Katherine McLaughlin
- 22 May 2020
The latest in our series of feelgood streaming suggestions to help see you through lockdown
The dance movie's very essence is to make you feel good, as if you can achieve anything by simply setting goals and working towards them. Its reliable and comforting formula combines such elements as reaching for your dreams against the odds, falling head over heels in love, and learning the importance of teamwork or friendship. If you're a fan of the genre, you more than likely have one you treasure: Flashdance, Footloose, Dirty Dancing, Save the Last Dance, Breakin' – the list goes on, and they all have their charms.
Director Anne Fletcher's Step Up is pure magic in its deeply sincere portrayal of a foster kid using hip hop swagger to dance his way to success. This critically maligned, box office hit spawned a seemingly never-ending franchise, with four sequels released to date (fingers crossed for a 20th anniversary edition in 2026), a Chinese spin-off, and a television series starring Ne-Yo.
The story may borrow from Alan Parker's Fame – it's set in a performing arts school and features dancers, musicians and singers, all struggling with their chosen fields while dealing with complicated home lives – but the film has an ace up its sleeve in the casting of Channing Tatum, in his breakthrough role. Chosen for his natural rhythmic ability (as we know from the Magic Mike films, he has a background in stripping), the narrative mirrors real-life, in that this was the actor's first experience of formal dance training.
Tatum plays Tyler Gage, a juvenile criminal sentenced to 200-hours community service for vandalism. He's placed at the institution he wrecked, the Maryland School of Arts, where he works as a janitor's assistant. Serendipitously, the girl he has his eye on, Nora (Jenna Dewan), finds herself in a fix when her dance partner hurts his ankle and can no longer perform in the end of year show. It's a scenario which requires Tyler to – you've guessed it – step up.
Tatum shares undeniable chemistry with co-star Dewan (the pair started dating on set and were married until 2019), and the film showcases his mad dance skills by having him sexily slide over cars, ace backflips, and learn ballet while dressed in oversized T-shirts, baggy jeans and a backwards cap. It's somewhat unlikely star-is-born stuff, but it works brilliantly.
The exhilarating senior showcase climax isn't the only high-point of a film which features breathlessly edited dance sequences throughout – including an impromptu nightclub scene and one which unfolds against the backdrop of abandoned docks, where Tatum displays his sense of humour by commenting on the creepily quiet, romantic setting. The credits play the audience out with audition tapes accompanied by Ciara's crunk hit 'Get Up', which has taken off on TikTok recently. Sure to shimmy you out of your lockdown funk, the whole affair is so joyful it may even set you on your way to learning a new routine.
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