William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson

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Take the Lead (a review)

T. took me to see Take the Lead, which opens in North American theatres on April 7. She had a "you-and-a-guest" ticket for a special preview screening obtained from her dance class. It differed from a regular moviegoing experience in that 1) there was a three-person security detail posted at the door to check for recording devices and 2) there weren't any trailers before the main feature.

I love trailers. Who doesn't? But with press and preview screenings, you don't get any. Since this was a free experience though, one can't complain.

That all being said, do I owe the world a review of Take the Lead, since the studio basically put us in there to say good things to our friends so as to drive up its opening weekend returns?

Oh, what the heck.

* * *

Antonio Banderas plays dance instructor Pierre Dulaine in this charming, witty film - his cutest role since Puss N' Boots. His portrayal is thoroughly enjoyable as he happens upon an inner-city high school and begins to teach ballroom dancing to a group of delinquent misfits in after-school detention.

This film doesn't waste a lot of time showing what makes Pierre decide to do this, or even at this particular school. In fact, I didn't even realize how exactly he made the connection to that school until long after I sat down to write this. But it doesn't really matter. Generally speaking, the characterization is selective, as you might expect to see in a movie featuring an ensemble cast. Think Love Actually, but with less schmoozing and more ballroom dancing.

Take the Lead has a plethora of small, precious moments. Heck, entire subplots can come and go in only 30 seconds of total screentime. And the one-liners from the detention students are some of the freshest you'll ever hear, never crossing the line over to banal obscenity. Moreover, pleasant raunch-less laughter filled our theatre more than a few times.

This movie was made with care, with every moment gleamingly polished from start to finish. Not only the jokes were very well executed - if you want to see some good dancing, this is your movie. You'll get to see the kids really bust it out, or getting their groove on, or whatever the word is now for what young people do when they go into a closed space and turn the amplifiers up to 115%. You'll also get to see a few professionals own the floor. You'll see the progress and the pain, the encouragement and the excellence, the steps and the emotion.

The characters are really easy to connect with, and utterly likable. Again, you only see them in little glimpses, but those glimpses are so brilliantly shaped, framed and acted that you feel like you know their whole story, without actually needing to invest the time to know their whole story. (I use the word "shaped," but this picture felt more honest and true-to-life than any I've seen in a long time.) This would be a great movie to use to teach editing - so much of the movie's magic would be lost if it were any less superbly edited. It's to the point where I'd like to go back and watch it again just to relive all those moments of brilliance and document them with zeal.

Like the real-life Pierre Dulaine, Take the Lead cares about the kids, always seeing not just what they are, but what they might be. And they're certainly not stupid, nor your cookie-cutter urban characters. For instance, you might expect that a well-dressed Franco-Spaniard who rides a Schwinn cruiser and listens to Judy Garland might experience a bit of a culture clash when he comes face-to-face with the progeny of the inner city. The results are obvious, but more clever than you might expect. (I could give you examples, but why ruin them for you?) This treatment is a tribute not only to their intelligence, but also to ours.

People will be drawing comparisons between this and other ballroom dancing movies, such as Shall we Dance?, and I can only thank the stars that they weren't released in the same year, allowing each to be enjoyed on their individual merits. (And what was up with Antz and A Bug's Life anyway?) Both movies showcase the cool side of ballroom dancing, and dance studios across the continent are enjoying increased enrollments. But it's my opinion that Take the Lead is the better movie. For one thing, I think the dancing is better, although this could be a selection effect because there's probably less dancing than in the 2004 movie. Furthermore, this story focuses on young adults, and I fancy myself to still be one. It doesn't have Jennifer Lopez, but it does have Yaya DaCosta, who: 1) is also beautiful 2) also has a bright future ahead of her and 3) can act.

When you see the ending of this movie, you might think that it stops a little bit short. But please ask yourself this: does the rest really matter? Where would you put the ending, and what was this movie really about anyway?

Take the Lead is one heartwarming, light (but not lightly treading), and meaningful film. It's a lot more than a Mighty Ducks on hardwood. You won't feel like you've just seen another "take the misfits and make them winners" movie. It's taking a chance - all this movie has to sell is Antonio Banderas and the fact that it happens to be really, really good. I think it will be a surprise hit, although it will be no surprise to those who have seen it.

* * *

Note: I can't say a lot for the autosaved draft feature recently introduced on the LiveJournal web updater. Sure, it seems like a good idea, but in practice (like tonight) I had been browsing other sites for 15 minutes or more, crashed, and rebooted. I had left with a few hundred words. I came back to five words. Well, it didn't matter much in the end, but still, be careful guys.
Tags: movies, reviews

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