It's Plead Your Case Week here at BAD, and there's no case I love to plead more than that of the Cheesy Dance Film. I'm not talking about classic dance musicals, anything starring Gene Kelly, Mitzi Gaynor or Fred Astaire - I love those, of course, but so does anyone with any taste. No, I love the kind of dance movie that could, in some circles, be called bad. The dancing's great, but the acting, writing, direction and cinematography are often a total mess. Those are my movies, movies where a pretty or handsome teen finds something crucial deep within him or herself after opening up to the world of possibility found in DANCE. Economic and racial inequality are bridged, grief and rage are tempered, self-worth is discovered, redemption found - all through the power of dance.
It's simple, too simple, and I love it that way. And aside from the Step Up movies (which I maintain don't need defending), Center Stage is my favorite.
As with most of these movies, there's an inverse correlation of dancing quality to acting quality. Center Stage has dancers, real ballet dancers, to perform its beautiful choreography, and the performances suffer for it. The acting performances, that is. The dancing performances are still breathtaking after watching them for the dozenth (or twentieth, if I'm being honest) time. There are a few exceptions here: after all, Center Stage has Peter Gallagher and his eyebrows, and his eyebrows can act. And the movie also features Zoe Saldana's film debut, and she's great in it. Eva is angry and rebellious, but she's also immensely talented. Eva wants to fight against the snobby privilege of the ABA (American Ballet Academy, a stand-in for the real School of American Ballet), but she also just loves to dance, and she wants to be there while hating how much she wants to be there.
But Eva is not the main character of Center Stage. That's Jody (Amanda Schull), who has no complicated feelings about her desire to attend ABA; it's all she's ever wanted to do. Unfortunately, Jody has neither the feet nor the body of a typical ballet dancer, and she's struggling for it. However, on the plus side for Jody, the only two straight guys at ABA are both mad crushing on her, because she's super cute.
The film has a number of fantastic dance scenes, my favorite of which are the product of casual hang-outs among the friend group, and it has an incredible Big Number Finale, as any of these films must. But rarely does a film's love triangle play out so literally via dance as it does in Center Stage.
Jody gains the confidence she needs to become a star, to choose the nice boy over the bad boy, to stand up for herself and bet on her future instead of listening to everyone (mostly Peter Gallagher's eyebrows) who told her she's not good enough. Eva learns to choose her talent over her rebellion. This other girl conquers bulimia. ALL THROUGH THE POWER OF DANCE.
If only it could all be this easy.