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Take the Lead

Directed by Liz Friedlander

New Line Cinema

4 stars

What do you get when you mix the swagger of Antonio Banderas, the elegance of competitive ballroom dance, and the grit of the big city? Liz Friedlander’s new movie, “Take the Lead.”

One part “Save the Last Dance,” one part “You Got Served” with a twist of “Shall We Dance,” “Take the Lead” is based on the true story of Pierre Dulaine (played by Antonio Banderas), a ballroom dance instructor who introduced the art to inner New York City high school students. The dancing is phenomenal, and the movie is a guaranteed good time for a wide-ranging audience. Sexually charged young hetereosexual women will coo over Antonio Banderas, while the more geriatric, or straight male, viewer will appreciate the dancing and witty banter.

Devoid of the bland script present in others of its genre, “Take the Lead” is both funny and poignant. From the movie’s opening sequence, the stark contrast between the harsh lives of the high school students and the wealth and grace of ballroom dance becomes clear. As Dulaine shines his shoes and puts on his tuxedo and Morgan, his prima donna, puts on her gown and jewels, his soon-to-be pupils are shown lacing up their sneakers and wearing short skirts or baggy pants.

The movie does not attempt to solve this social disparity in a predictable, “My Fair Lady” rags-to-riches polished manner. At the final climactic competition, each student brings with him/her a little bit of his/her own urban style.

Defying convention, romantic side-plots in “Take the Lead” do not overwhelm the movie. Guys certainly don’t have to worry about this film dissolving into a masked chick flick. While there are several love triangles and love dilemmas in the movie, they are tactfully sprinkled throughout it.

Banderas is the highlight of the film. With his sexy Spanish accent and enthralling eyes, Banderas has the charisma to carry “Take the Lead.” As Dulaine, he is convincing as the charming, chivalrous ladies man and capable of showing pensiveness and emotion when placed in a difficult situation. Banderas is also an exceptional dancer; his Argentine Tango is impeccable.

The high school students hold their own, however. Not only is their dancing impressive, but the young actors, mostly newcomers, also do a good job of establishing both the comedic and serious elements of their characters. Dante Basco is hilarious as Ramos, a smooth talker trying to win the ladies. Yaya DaCosta and Rob Brown (“Coach Carter”) as Lahrette and Rock both give standout performances as two students with intertwined past tragedies who fall in love through dance. Brandon Andrews plays Monster, a tall, overweight teen in need of confidence, stealing viewers’ hearts as he improves his dancing skills with his partner.

But no movie is perfect, and “Take the Lead” does have several gaping holes. For example, while providing the backgrounds of Latoya and Rock, no information is ever given as to why the other students are in detention. While the viewer is told the students are amongst the most “troubled” in the school, they appear no different from the “normal” inner-city high school teenager outfitted in baggy jeans and sideways caps. Additionally, the students’ dancing improves at a surprising pace, and the ballroom competition at the end of the movie is very different from any real life competition of the sport

Bottom Line: A “must-see” for those who love any type of dance, “Take the Lead” is a fun movie with a fantastic soundtrack that will leave you dancing out of the theatre…or at least humming.

—Reviewer Reva P. Minkoff can be reached at rminkoff@fas.harvard.edu.

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