Spoiler alert: There will be spoilers and a plot review in this write-up.
Netflix’s controversial original movie Step Sisters finally debuted on Jan. 19. After it dropped, Lena Waithe hit the tweets to ask folks what they thought about it. Those opinions ranged, but it didn’t seem like anybody was ready to call for a boycott of Netflix over its release. And if you watched it, there’s a very good reason for this.
Step Sisters is absurd, ridiculous, cute, bad, good, kinda funny, cringeworthy-level unfunny, stereotypically stereotypical, paint-by-number, a knockoff Bring It On Pitch Perfect Stomp the Yard Don’t Be a Menace, entirely unbelievable, unrealistic, heartwarming and curiously WTF. The script needs all the work and it needs all the injections of humor. But it’s also kind of enjoyable at times.
Do you remember Jumping the Broom, the T.D. Jakes-helmed movie about bringing together two families from opposite sides of the track for the wedding of the girl who had it all and the guy who had it rough, starring Laz Alonzo and Paula Patton? It seemed like an attempt at making a more respectable Tyler Perry movie. Except for the first time ever, I wished that Perry had been part of a project, since it would at least have been funny. Scripts matter and levity works. Throwing tropes on-screen doesn’t mask bad writing and a thin premise.
Welcome to Step Sisters.
The first 15 minutes of Step Sisters were possibly some of the worst 15 minutes of a movie I’ve watched in a long time. Nuance? Fuck nuance. Let’s just overdo shit. Jamilah (Megalyn Echikunwoke), the movie’s star and member of black Greek-letter organization Theta Chi Phi, really wants to go to Harvard Law School and join her super-woke caricature white boyfriend, Dane (played by Matt McGorry), who sends ankh emojis.
But her parents, both Harvard alums, refuse to write her the recommendation that is the only impediment to her acceptance. So let me get this right. A black family REFUSES to help their only child get into Harvard so that she learns how to do shit on her own, even though they know it will help her get where she’s trying to go in life? And she’s a good student and model sorority member and is active with her community work.
That is literally the jumping-off point. The only thing that helps here is that Jamilah’s mother, played by Sheryl Lee Ralph, absolutely hates Michelle Obama, and they make it a running joke. That? Funny. Who hates Michelle Obama?
One of the white chicks in Sigma Beta Beta, a white sorority, gets caught banging a dude in a bush at a party, and their charter is up for revocation unless they get an image makeover. Enter a super-inappropriate dean of student affairs who guarantees Jamilah’s entry to Harvard by providing the recommendation she so badly needs if she fixes that shit.
You know how this goes from here. The SBBs are apprehensive, but they take her up on the offer to teach them how to step to enter a charity step show and rehab their image. Except Jamilah has to hide this from her sorority sisters, who are understandably against the idea of white girls stepping. Also, oddly, the head of the SBBs has a brother who is black who ends up wooing Jamilah with zombies and the Cars. Yes, the rock group. They go from zero to 100, nigga, real quick.
The SBBs, of course, fuck up their first foray into stepping, kind of like how the Barden Bellas fucked up their first attempt at a show in Pitch Perfect. But they decide to give it another go and finally start to understand sisterhood. Which is when Jamilah’s life goes to shit. She loses her job, her sorority sisters, her mother and Harvard and decides to leave school to finish her degree through a correspondence course. It’s like Randolph and Mortimer Duke from Trading Places decided to ruin her life. For a dollar.
The white girls (and one SBB black girl) get it together eventually, step in a regional comp and get jobbed by the judges even though they placed but didn’t win, and Jamilah’s soror and SBB’s biggest critic, played by Naturi Naughton, comes to their defense to make sure they get their just due.
And we all smile and shit. One friend of mine even said she shed tears. Truth is, the script isn’t terrible. It’s not good, either. The execution is nowhere NEAR as good as it could be. The script needed more humor and we had to suspend too much reality. How is it possible that this super-popular black head of her sorority is able to attend SBB events and help these white chicks learn to step, and her entire sorority has no idea EVEN though she enlists the help of other black fraternity members? Nobody talks??? And again, the whole “My parents who love me and realize how awesome I am decided they want me to earn my stripes the old-fashioned way” premise makes no sense.
Megalyn is good in her role. And the white chicks (and the black one) are interesting as her test cases. They are likable. And Lyndon Smith as Danielle, the leader of the SBBs, plays a good foil for Jamilah. Yes, this is a movie about white women appropriating stepping culture and getting some credit for being white doing black stuff, but it doesn’t feel too white. Admittedly, the second time I watched—that’s how much I love you people; I’ve watched it more than once—I found myself liking it more than I did the first time. To be fair, I also liked Tupac’s song “Just Like Daddy” after repeated listenings, too, so there’s that.
If you’re looking for this movie to be anything more than a tale of white girls falling over themselves trying to compete at a black art—and why would you be?—you’ll actually be disappointed. It isn’t deep or going to truly illustrate anything about campus race relations among Greeks.
If anything, it’s a decent movie about relationships in general and overcoming adversity and not giving up. And the SBBs do a good job in the final step show, as opposed to the PURE ASS they are in the first step show, where they tried to prove to everybody else that they could do it. If you’re looking for a ridiculous movie where white chicks fall all over themselves but then come together and the black lead character is awesome and does a good job with the material she’s given, this is your jammy jam.
Can I recommend it? Eh. If you have nothing better to do with your time and are tired of watching any of the Fast and Furious movies that seem to run ad nauseam, then it’s a good respite. It’s not the worst movie you’ll ever see at all. I assure you that you’ve seen worse movies. And it is enjoyable in parts. And most important, it does get better, even though I did want to throw my iPad out of the window because of the final competition. But I also expected them to lame out and have the white girls win, and since they didn’t, I have to give some credit.
So if you like movies with black people and your Netflix queue tells you that You Got Served is popular on Netflix? Step Sisters is your lane. If not, don’t worry; P did that so hopefully you don’t have to go through that.