How She Move

Starring Rutina Wesley and Tre Armstrong. Rated PG. Opens Friday, January 25, at the Cinemark Tinseltown

If you dug deep enough, you’d probably find the skeleton of a Mickey Rooney–Judy Garland hey-gang-let’s-put-on-a-show musical lurking beneath the entrails of this movie, but How She Move has got a lot more going for it than that.

When Raya Green (Rutina Wesley) is forced to leave exclusive Seaton Academy and move back to her old stomping grounds (Toronto’s Jane and Finch corridor), she discovers that, if she is going to fulfill her promise, she must learn to negotiate.

Negotiate what, you might ask. Well, just about everything, including her relationships with her parents, her sister’s death from a drug overdose, her former friends, her working-class teachers, local gender lines, and her own guilty love for “step” dancing.

Director Ian Iqbal Rashid keeps the dance sequences high-energy and engrossing, while first-time screenwriter Annmarie Morais includes some nicely observed bits of sociology, such as the fierce ambition that accounts for the success of so many immigrant Jamaican families, as well as a good ear for Caribbean-Canadian English: “The resta you mighta been laxin’, but my shit’s always been tight”. As for the film’s star, if her face were less sensitive, the film would seem a lot more didactic than it ultimately does.

Touching and wise, How She Move is also something so strange that even mentioning it sounds oxymoronic: it’s the only movie I can think of that parents and teenagers could—indeed, should—see together.