Steps is about falling into addiction and suffering and making your way back into the light. Brian (Rob Coleman) is a successful man with a girlfriend and a first child on the way when he’s shot in an attempted mugging. The shooting and aftermath cause him to fall deeper into what was, until that point, a burgeoning alcoholism. His descent ruins his relationship with his girlfriend and ends with him homeless and on the street. Fourteen years later, Brian has never met his son. He starts his path to recovery that leads him to becoming the at-home aid for Taji (Walter Fauntleroy), who’s also suffering from a gunshot wound … and happens to be the very man who shot him.
It’s an intriguing setup for an addiction film that manages to find meaning and excitement in the midst of pretty straightforward uplifting story beats. Audiences who have seen this type of film know Brian will struggle and overcome the chasm that’s grown between him and Wendy (Tia Dionne Hodge). We know he and Taji will make amends despite trying to kill one another at times. We know Wendy’s lecherous new boyfriend will show his true colors and be cast out. The characters routinely speak platitudes to each other about life, love and never giving up. Despite all this, though, Steps manages to temper the inevitable goodness of its storytelling with some really tough beats and, for lack of better terms, real talk about the difficulties of overcoming addition and forgiving those who wronged you. There are harsh moments that make the conventional redemption path seem far away or a place to which return is difficult. Steps really shines in its script, and the performances that bring it to life.
Unfortunately, some of the production aspects just aren’t quite up to par. The audio mix in particular is at times very hard to hear. Many sequences seem to lack ADR, and the ambient noise is overwhelming. Generally, if a film moves me, it feels like a nitpick to point out something that would be understandable in a production this size. But as a constructive criticism, I hope the filmmakers are able to tighten up the sound in spots for any auxiliary release down the road. It is a genuine distraction from its other qualities.
That being said, Steps is written with an eye for not cutting corners or softening the experience of someone hitting rock bottom, even as it captures the message that dignity and grace can bring us back from the brink. Going in, we know what it’s going to be; we can even predict the payoff for some of the corny feel-good jokes at the end. Doesn’t matter. It’s consistently captivating from start to finish, with well-rounded characters to root for. There’s a sense that Steps is trying to do good by telling this story with honesty and heart. I think it succeeds.