Saturday, 19 September 2020
Take the Lead
Written by Sandra Fitzpatrick   
Monday, 10 April 2006 17:59

Women want to be with him, men want to be like him - or with him. I guess it depends on the man. But no matter how you look at it Antonio Banderas has always had enough charm and charisma to melt the icy, slanderous tongues of even the toughest movie critics. No matter how inane the role he is playing, he turns it into something that you can’t take your eyes off of. And that is exactly what he does in his latest film Take the Lead.

Banderas stars as Pierre Dulaine, a dance instructor who decides he wants to make a difference in the lives of underprivileged students. His inspiration comes one night when he witnesses a student beating the living headlights out of the principles car with a crowbar. Most people would have hightailed it out of there with mental notes not to go strolling in that neighborhood again. Instead Dulaine approaches the principle (Alfre Woodard) the next day with a plan to teach these kids respect, courtesy and manners. In short he wants to teach them ballroom dancing.

The movie is “inspired by true events” which means that it is largely made up. But that’s ok. I’m sure the real Mr. Dulaine won’t mind since it is such a flattering portrayal.

One of the fictionalized aspects is that the kids in this movie are older, allowing the film to deal with heavier issues. All of them come from families with problems of drug abuse, poverty or violence, so the temptation is strong to join gangs or drop out of school. Banderas’s dignified performance shows how Dulaine may have inspired them by example.

Along with engaging performances from most of the cast there is also a fair amount of humor. I was kind of skeptical about this movie and I thought it might be hokey but I was surprised at how natural some of the laughs were. There is one scene where a tough looking guy gazes admiringly up at a disco ball and sighs “Coool”. You can imagine the strange looks he gets from his peers.

Of course what would a dance movie be without dance sequences! The scenes get crazier as the kids get more and more into it, resulting in a hybrid style of movement and music. Old standards get combined with hip-hop to create frantic dance tracks. The grand finale takes place at a competition where they flaunt their originality and style in front of more traditional dancers.

That leads us to what I would call the downfall of Take the Lead. After taking us into the lives of these characters it just drops off without resolving a lot of major issues. When the movie is over I was left wondering “What next?” With the competition over do these kids just go back to their crappy lives? Since it’s an uplifting sort of film I’m meant to assume they will all be ok. Realistically, at least one of them is doomed to a short life unless he relocates to a different city. If you see the movie, you’ll know what I mean.

So despite having some major flaws and some choppy editing Take the Lead is a surprisingly spirited and entertaining flick. I give it 6 out of 10 stars.

If you want to learn more about the real life dance program for inner city kids check out the inspiring documentary Mad Hot Ballroom.