Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E dir Randall Miller
scr Randall Miller, Jody Savin
with Robert Carlyle, Marisa Tomei, John Goodman, Mary Steenburgen, Sean Astin, Donnie Wahlberg, Elden Henson, Adam Arkin, Sonia Braga, David Paymer, Ernie Hudson, Miguel Sandoval, Patricia Fraser, Tom Dahlgren, Camryn Manheim, Danny DeVito
release US 31.Mar.06,
UK 25.Aug.06
05/US Goldwyn 1h43

Shall we dance: Wahlberg, Steenburgen and the class

carlyle tomei goodman astin henson arkin


Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School Using his 1990 short as a flashback, Miller expands his story of cheeky youth into a examination of adult grief. But strong performances and moving themes are drowned in a sea of sentimentality.

When the widower Frank (Carlyle) helps crash victim Steve (Goodman), he gets more than he bargained for. Steve tells him a long story of how, as a boy (Henson) in 1962, he took a dancing class with prim Marilyn Hotchkiss (Fraser) and agreed to meet a girl (Manheim) 40 years later, the night of the crash. So Frank keeps the appointment, and discovers Marilyn's daughter (Steenburgen) now running the class. To Frank's surprise, dance offers the catharsis he needs. And possibly romance with the damaged Meredith (Tomei).

There are a lot more characters in subplots involving Frank's grief counselling group (Astin, Arkin, Paymer, Hudson, Sandoval) and the dance class members (including Wahlberg and Braga). And the short edited in as flashbacks is a whole story on its own. But Miller keeps all of these balls in the air with only a few awkward crosscuts. What emerges is a rich, densely populated tale that's both funny and emotionally raw as these sad people struggle to emerge from the gloom of their tragedy-filled lives.

The acting is strong across the board, with an engaging anchor performance from Carlyle and stand-out turns from Wahlberg as a slithery hothead, Astin as an obsessive nervous wreck and Henson in a bizarre (unrelated) double role as the young Steve (in the short) and as Frank's work colleague today. Tomei has a few wonderful moments, although her character is badly underwritten.

The story is beautifully shot, but it stumbles as Miller and Savin overload it with so much baggage that it can't quite take off. Character quirks, interpersonal issues, back-stories and sideroads emerge at every turn, distracting us from the central narrative and keeping the characters superficial, even though we're dealing with meaty, compelling issues. Worse still is the film's relentless wallowing in nostalgia and corny sweetness. It's full of great stuff but, like the title itself, it's just too much.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 24.Jul.06

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School ian mckissack, raglan, new zealand: 3.5/5"Watched this movie with no background knowledge. I loved it though certainly some of the inserts from the original short film were clunky. Yes, it was a sentimental fairy tale with credibility glitches. But it also had a sort of magic. Dance on I say." (12.Aug.06)
2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall