A ballet dancer needs a partner for the biggest show of the year. She sees a boy working off his community service time at her school showing some of his dance moves off to a friend. Could he do? Will he do it? Will they learn a great deal from each other and about themselves as they work together and will there be an issue right up until showtime about whether the big dance number will happen?
Yes to all of the above, and yes, too, to the really big question, which is: will it be fun to watch? Imagine a hip-hop version of High School Musical, some juvenile delinquency and a drive-by shooting added in to provide some street cred, but still a Disney-fied world where kisses are important and happy endings are guaranteed.
Ever since the days when Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney decided to put on a show, movies about kids working hard on song and dance numbers for the big night that will decide their futures have been a staple for showing off young talent to an appreciative young audience. Like the recent Save the Last Dance, this is the story of a mash-up, as the ballet dancer learns to loosen up and the boy from the streets learns discipline and technique.
Jenna Dewan is Nora, a senior at a Maryland high school for the arts. Tyler (Channing Tatum) is assigned 200 hours of community service at the school for vandalism. Nora is preparing for the big showcase that will determine whether she gets offered a job as a dancer. When her partner Andrew is injured, she asks Tyler if he will practice with her until Andrew is better.
The screenplay is so formulaic that it seems not just predictable but inevitable. The dialogue struggles mightily under its exposition-heavy burden until it collapses completely. Tatum and Dewan are about 10 years too old to be playing high school kids. These kids are about as “street” as a commercial for Target. But the dance numbers are energetically filmed and the underlying sweetness is impossible to resist. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard applause in a movie theater just because of a kiss. And it’s been an even longer time since I wanted to join in.
Parents should know that this movie has brief but disturbing violence. A young character is shot and killed. There are some other moments of peril and threatened violence. Characters use some strong language and engage in vandalism and car theft. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of committed and loyal friendships between diverse characters. And another is its portrayals of teenagers who are not sexually promiscuous and take kissing seriously. SPOILER ALERT: A young boy is killed because he wants to imitate and impress his older brother, who engages in risky and illegal behavior. The brother is told not to feel responsible, but in reality he is in part responsible for what happened and parents will want to discuss this issue with young teens who see the movie.
Families who see this movie should talk about why Tyler and Mac did not dare to dream of more for themselves and why that changed. What is likely to happen to them next? The characters in this movie talk about loyalty — who shows it? How do Nora’s, Tyler’s, and Mac’s home situations affect their perspectives?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy High School Musical (suitable for all ages). There are many popular films about dancers who develop romantic relationships, from Dirty Dancing and Save the Last Dance (mature material) to the more family-friendly Shall We Dance and Strictly Ballroom.