Take the Lead (2006) / Drama-Music
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some violence and language
Running Time: 119 min.
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Rob Brown, Yaya DaCosta, Alfre Woodard, Dante Basco, John Ortiz, Jenna Dewan, Laura Benanti, Marcus T. Paulk
Director: Liz Friedlander
Screenplay: Dianne Houston
Review published September 2, 2006
Pierre Dulaine is a real-life dance instructor in New York City that has been influential in leading the movement to include ballroom dancing as part of the curriculum for inner city students, teaching them discipline, grace, and a feeling of self-worth. As for the rest of the film, it's pure Hollywood.
Antonio Banderas (The Legend of Zorro, Shrek 2) plays Dulaine, who encounters a high school student (Brown, Coach Carter) vandalizing a parked car belonging to the principal at a local school (Woodard, Something New). Dulaine doesn't report the crime to the police, instead seeking out the principal directly, and offers his services as a dance instructor to teach some of her problem students how to be more than what they are. Permission is allowed for Dulaine to teach the students serving detention after school, and while they are not too happy to receive instruction, Dulaine melts their icy exteriors to teach them proper ballroom technique. With his help, the students hope to compete in a contest against seasoned dancers.
I realize that this sort of feel-good movie will undoubtedly win over some viewers looking for an inspirational story and some choice dancing, but this is the kind of movie that I personally find impossible to stomach. The biggest problem that I have with the film is its inability to adhere to reality in any fashion, contriving an endless array of plot machinations and phony drama.
It makes little sense for Dulaine to teach children serving detention, as those students are usually there only for a day or two, and the turnover rate would have been too high there for him to be able to get those kids into competition form in the time alloted. Eventually, people within the school, as well as concerned parents, object to Dulaine "wasting" the student time by giving them dance lessons, instead of having them learn what they need to know, which also makes little sense, as he teaches them during non-class hours before and after their courses. Never mind the fact that these students are the ones supposedly written off by their teachers, parents, and school administrators, none of whom are shown as doing anything special to try to foster better education while the kids are actually in class. It's also amazing to me how minimal the resistance is from these troubled teens; a class of real-life honors students would have given Dulaine a much harder time than the "hardasses" shown here.
Take the Lead feels like an MTV production of true-life events, eschewing all pretense of working as a straightforward drama in favor of sexy attitudes, homogenized characterizations, and plenty of well-edited music and dance routines. It's the kind of film where all logic is kept out of the equation in order to force audience-titillating moments that allow the kids to shine, first showing them at the nadir of inner city existence, then busting out dance moves that would take endless hours of training to perform. Not only do they perform these moves without a hitch, most of their moves are never shown to be taught by Dulaine, delivered completely by surprise during the film's climax for the purpose of wowing us in our seats at how far these kids have come to becoming professional quality dancers.
For a storyline that extols the virtues of a rigidly disciplined artform such as ballroom dancing, the film does Dulaine and the rest of the profession a disservice my making an unintentional mockery of their ballroom dance contests, their music, and their dance styles. Originality and individuality are deemed as more important, which is a message that might have had some resonance if not for the fact that the movie itself slavishly adheres to trite cliches and worn-out formula antics.
If you need to see this kind of film done with some kind of integrity, it's far better to rent the documentary, Mad Hot Ballroom, and avoid this artificial, predictable claptrap altogether, unless you're one that is moved more by music video montages and hot dance tunes than in quality characterizations or a belief in the story itself as being something that could presumably happen. I could only laugh at how forced most of the drama is, as the filmmakers make a concerted effort to get their feel-good ending, no matter how many shortcuts they have to take to achieve it.
Take the Lead might be mindless entertainment for some, but I found it to be one of the most torturous endurance tests to my patience in recent memory. If I were held at gunpoint and told to watch it again, I would gladly "take the lead".
©2006 Vince Leo