The second child of hard-working Jamaican immigrants Faye and David Green (Melanie Nicholls-King, Conrad Coates), Raya (newcomer Rutina Wesley) grew up in the Jane-Finch corridor, a rough Toronto neighborhood awash in violence, drugs and multi-generational poverty. Raya always worked to improve herself, and has spent three years at Seaton Academy, and academically rigorous private boarding school. But her parents empty the family coffers battling older sister Pam's drug addiction, and when Pam dies of an overdose, Raya must return to Jane-Finch. Her homecoming is chilly: Childhood best friend Michelle (Tre Armstrong) sums up the prevailing sentiment -- Raya is a sellout, a showoff and a snob who thinks she's too good for the hood. They're dead wrong; Raya isn't all priss and airs -- like her late sister, she's a fierce step dancer. And after flubbing the scholarship test she hoped would be her ticket back to Seaton, Raya turns to stepping. "Step Monster," a Detroit-based competition with a $50,000 purse, is coming up; if Raya could secure a spot with a top-notch crew she might be able to pay her own tuition. But just getting to square one is tricky on every front: She has to deceive her parents, who blame the step scene for Pam's problems, repair relationships and get past the longstanding prejudice that keeps all-girl and mixed-sex teams out of the winner's circle.
There's no question how it's all going to resolve itself, but screenwriter Annmarie Morais allows Raya to make some refreshingly unsympathetic decisions – a rarity in this kind of urban fable -- and the Canadian setting is a change from the US-made STEP UP (2006), DRUMLINE (2002) and STOMP THE YARD (2007). Choreographer Hi-Hat's inventive dance sequences are expertly staged -- the percussive, aggressive rhythms of stepping come through vividly, laced with touches of sly humor and assertive sexiness – and the youthful cast consistently chooses grit over gloss. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh
A young woman is to forced reconcile her upwardly mobile ambitions with her roots in a crime-ridden community in this formulaic but well-acted variation on the theme of pursuing your dreams through dance.