Tangos and foxtrots are hot, hot, hot once again, thanks to shows like “Dancing with the Stars” and movies like “Mad Hot Ballroom.” And now you can take a spin around the dance floor with a new movie that celebrates life, death, and a mean quick-step. “Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dancing and Charm School” was the big crowd pleaser last summer when I saw it at the Waterfront Film Festival, and the film is finally releasing in theaters nationwide this weekend–only 15 years after producer Randall Miller originally shot the story as a short film with the same name.
“Marilyn Hotchkiss” tells the story of Frank Keane, a recently widowed breadmaker (played by indie film favorite Robert Carlyle), who is making a delivery run one day when he comes across a terrible car accident. He stops to help the man in the wrecked car (John Goodman) but then recklessly promises the dying stranger that he will honor the man’s final wish by keeping an appointment the man had with a childhood sweetheart at a place called the Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing and Charm School.
Though the childhood sweetheart never shows up, Keane is drawn to the slightly eccentric atmosphere of the school as well as the oddball characters he meets there. He begins to take dance lessons and becomes an immediate hit with the ladies there–though the other men in the class have a different take on Keane’s sudden appearance on the scene. From there, he begins a slow process of healing, as he begins to fall in love with a woman, Meredith (Marisa Tomei), he meets in class.
“Marilyn Hotchkiss” might be too sweet or sentimental for some and a few of the plot points are a little implausible, but what I liked best about this movie–in addition to the phenomenal supporting performances from such unlikely actors as Donnie Wahlberg—is the way it represents the process of grieving. All of the characters in this movie are grieving the loss of something–a spouse, a reputation, a leg–and in the process of wallowing in that grief, they have become disconnected from the world around them. “Hotchkiss” celebrates the uneven, uncomfortable growth each character experiences as he or she takes a leap of faith by once again daring to accept the unconditional love of another–a risk that in Mariyln Hotchkiss’ world is only slightly greater than the risk of embarrassing yourself by trying to learn that quick-step.