Thursday, February 15, 2007

Take The Lead (2006)

Starring Antonio Banderas, Rob Brown and Alfre Woodword; Directed by Liz Friedlander

Take the Lead is a dance movie through and through-it's high-spirited and fun, and draws you in with a mix of classic and popular music. Antonio Banderas is Pierre Dulaine, a smooth, skilled dancer who competes in ballroom dancing competitions, and teaches at a dance studio filled with wealthy patrons.

After witnessing a bit of mean-spirited vandalism by a high school kid, Dulaine goes to the high school and asks to teach ballroom dancing to the students. The skeptical principal, played by Alfre Woodward with toughness masking her caring, almost laughs him out of her office; she then sends him down to the detention hall, which happens to be in a deep basement that resembles a dungeon. It's so close to the boiler room that you can almost hear the hiss of steam and the drip of water.

Banderas is a pleasure to watch through this entire movie. He's courtly, polite, and kind, and meets every obstacle thrown at him with tact and courtesy. His Spanish-tinted English suggests a world of rich Corinthian leather. The kids are intrigued by him; he's like an alien from another world. They can't relate to his music or his dance moves, until he brings in a skilled and beautiful partner who dances an extremely suggestive tango with him. After that, the kids’ resistance is futile.

One of my favorite scenes is a PTA meeting where a smarmy teacher who dislikes the idea that "dance class" is competing with the serious subjects the students should be learning. Dulaine disarms the parents and teachers by demonstrating a little dancing with Alfre Woodward (who is charmed in spite of herself) while telling them why learning to dance is relevant for the kids, and how it will assist their growth to maturity and identity.

There’s a nice sub-plot of a young girl from a wealthy family who decides to join the detention kids at the high school. She's getting ready for her debutante debut at a high-society dance, and feels awkward and shy. She figures that joining this bunch of misfits trying to learn to dance might help her to overcome her fears.

Rob Brown, star of Finding Forester, is one of the hard-case kids. In seeing his life outside of class we understand just what a challenge it is for kids in the inner city to see beyond today's rent and tomorrow's bills. Brown is convincing in the good and bad choices he makes, and in the growth he experiences in the movie.

This movie is based on a true story, which makes it all the more enjoyable. At the end of the movie the kids enter a city-wide ballroom dance competition. There's a live orchestra playing, and the best dancers in the city have arrived to compete. Are the kids good enough? Do they win? See this infectious, toe-tapping movie to find out.

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