Full Price for Dancing; Rental + snacks for Story
I have to split my rating for this movie. We all know that most dance movies tend to have less than original plots, relatively simple characters, and a little show boating. Center Stage, however, has TONS and TONS of dancing, plenty of dancing, great dancing, amazing dancing, and for people who see dance movies to see dancing, this is a Full Price Feature all the way. For people who enjoy dance movies but still want the plot of a “regular” movie, Center Stage can be a wee bit disappointing. The actors are dancers who act, which in my book is great for them – with no prior experience they all carried a movie and didn’t embarrass themselves in any way – oh and did I mention that they are fantastic dancers? The acting is good enough that we care about the characters, we believe what they are saying, and then we enjoy the progression of the story. The real crime is the written dialogue – it’s not these kids’ fault that the screenplay is hackneyed and terrible, but they will be blamed for it, just because they are not all John Gielgud.
Forgive the script, for it serves the movie’s real purpose which is to show a girl’s struggle through the prestigious American Ballet Academy and lots and lots of amazing dancing. Willowy women and leanly powerful men fly and pas-de-bourret across the screen. Handsome people smolder furiously at each other with their bodies instead of their words, and my god does it all look great. The camera work is great – alternating between close-up and wide shot without losing the general feel of the performance – something I have noticed happens too much in dance movies. You have 100 people all doing the same huge move at once, but center on the lead’s triumphant expression, you have just wasted 99 people’s choreography – why have them there? Center Stage clearly had a lot of dancers involved behind the camera, making everything look good. The physical endurance it must have taken for simple shots (late night solo rehearsals, classroom exercises, a big flaming dance-off pissing contest between two men) is astounding.
Director Nicholas Hytner (The Crucible, Object of My Affection) made some scary musical choices at times, but he cast some great people as the teachers of the school. I can’t say that he knows how to improve upon weak material, but at least he doesn’t damage what does work. Casting “real” actors in the non dancing roles such as Donna Murphy and Peter Gallagher lent weight to what could have been painfully weak scenes of conflict and plot. Peter Gallagher as the Academy’s dean(thankfully tweezed) was notable – his calmness, his solidity, confidence, strength really shone in this role. Maybe it was the 98 lb. waifs fluttering all around him that made him seem so strong, but he was marvelous and totally believable, even with those awful words coming out of his mouth.
Amanda Schull is our lead and she is really everything we would want in a dance movie lead – she’s beautiful, unselfconscious, and a great dancer – but not too great. You know she was on her toes 12 hours a day for months, but she always seems fresh and ready to go – very impressive. Eithan Steifel has the Leonardo DiCaprio role – cocky sexy guy who may or may not be a jerk but we all have to admit that he sure can twinkle those toes. It’s amusing to go through the IMDB and see that none of these people have been in a movie before – and here they are, carrying one on their toned and sweaty backs. It’s totally worth seeing just for the dancing, and I am certain that those who dream of ballet as their vocation can find more than that to enjoy, but don’t fault the actors for their dialogue. They give us more than we bargain for on stage.
MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 5/12/00
Time in minutes 113
Director Nicholas Hytner
Studio Columbia Tristar