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|Take the Lead|
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir Liz Friedlander|
scr Dianne Houston
with Antonio Banderas, Rob Brown, Yaya DaCosta, Alfre Woodard, Marcus T Paulk, Dante Basco, Elijah Kelley, Lauren Collins, Brandon Andrews, John Ortiz, Katya Virshilas, Laura Benanti
release US 7.Apr.06, UK 14.Apr.06 06/US New Line 1h48
Take a seat: Brown, Banderas, DaCosta and Kelley
See also: MAD HOT BALLROOM
Take the events documented in Mad Hot Ballroom and soak them in movie cliches. This drama changes the students from pre-teens to high schoolers so they can indulge in Dead Poets Society plot points and Stand By Me inspiration. It's still enjoyable, but never as strong as it should be.
When Pierre Dulaine (Banderas) volunteers to teach ballroom dancing to tough detention students at an inner-city New York high school, the principal (Woodard) laughs in his face. But he tenaciously reaches out to the kids, encouraging them to express themselves on the dance floor and develop some self-respect along the way. As a ballroom competition approaches, there's a major clash between urban grit and posh privilege.
Music video veteran Friedlander seems overly excited by crosscutting between jazzy standards and energetic rap--as if it's something new. Five minutes in, we're already sick of this trite editing, and it continues as the script wallows in hackneyed plotting and simplistic characterisation. She definitely has a sharply visual eye and infuses the film with a pulsing musical rhythm. But both she and writer Houston should really have honoured the truth of the story, rather than dumbing it down and amping it up for mainstream audiences.
Fortunately, the story is strong enough to keep us gripped. And the cast invests actual personality and energy into the characters. Banderas plays Dulaine as a slightly lifeless lump, which is odd, but somehow makes him more endearing in his tenacious desire to do something positive for his community. We really do sense his growing vision. And the kids are excellent, adding intriguing details to the corny troubled lives the screenwriter gives them.
The uninspired writing and editing is a real shame, because as the documentary showed, this is amazing material. Forcing a message into the premise just makes it feel fake, as does adding subplots involving drugs, violence, crime and bad parenting. Not to mention the ludicrous competition finale (which at least dodges expectations). When the film is focusing on the dance itself, it's lyrical, sexy and bursting with life. And honestly, that's the real story.
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© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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